Buddha's Money (1998) by Martin Limón
This book was very much a lucky find for me. I was simply checking out a bookstore in town I had never been to (Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle) and they have a substantial mystery section. Nice work Soho Crime in drawing me in with your packaging and blurb. The tradeoff with this publisher is that while they put out inexpensive books by obscure, often international, mystery authors the printing itself is horrendous. My copy had many instances of offset type, smudging and even a missing page.
Nevertheless, what a fun book. Martin Limón has writted 3 novels that feature Ernie Bascom and George Sueño. They are CID investigators for the US Eighth Army based in Korea in the 1970's. Sueño is an East LA chicano who provides the moral compass of the story and from whose point of view the story is told. Ernie is a crazy two-time 'Nam vet who is always down for action. The two of them have a reputation and cred with the hustlers and business girls who thrive off the army.
The fellows save a young buddhist nun girl from a beating one night and are drawn into a mystery involving jade relics, Mongol warrior-priests and an obese ex-army antiques dealer. This is not one of those crime novels with lots of internal dialogue as to the nature of the crime like we saw in the last book reviewed here. When these guys get a lead, they hop in their jeep and bomb off to find it. The book is like a police procedural crossed with a hard-boiled noir.
My main complaint with the book would probably be that the plot seems to get away from the author once in awhile and become too fantastical. In many ways this book reminds me of the popular novel set in Thailand called Bangkok 8 (reviewed here). Buddha's Money, however, delivers a much more satisfying read. There is an awesome third act scene that takes place
during one of those insane Korean student riots.
All in all, the writing is taut and the action well-paced enough so that you really get swept along. According to most reviews, Limón's first book with these characters, Jade Lady Burning, is the best one to read.