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The Iron Sickle
Cover of The Iron Sickle
The Iron Sickle
Sergeants Sueño and Bascom Series, Book 9
Borrow Borrow

Two US Army CID agents go rogue to track down a calculating Korean killer: "Limón is one of the best military writers ever" (Lee Child).

Early one rainy morning, the head of the 8th United States Army Claims Office in Seoul, South Korea, is brutally murdered by a Korean man in a trench coat with a small iron sickle hidden in his sleeve. The attack is a complete surprise, carefully planned and clinically executed. How did this unidentified Korean civilian get onto the tightly controlled US Army base? And why attack the claims officer—is there an unsettled grudge, a claim of damages that was rejected by the US Army?

Against orders, CID agents George Sueño and Ernie Bascom start to investigate. Somehow, no one they speak to has been interviewed yet. The 8th Army isn't great at solving cases, but they aren't usually this bad, either. George and Ernie begin to suspect that someone doesn't want the case solved.

Martin Limón proves once again why he is hailed by his peers as one of the greatest military writers of his time.

2015 Washington State Book Award Finalist
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2014

"As always, the author vividly contrasts adventures in the seamy side of Seoul's nightlife with a sensitive appreciation for Korea's ancient culture." —The Seattle Times

"Limón brilliantly combines a procedural with a harrowing portrayal of the wounds of war . . . The secret at the heart of the crimes is truly chilling, and Limón's nuanced characters enhance a fast-paced, carefully crafted plot." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

Two US Army CID agents go rogue to track down a calculating Korean killer: "Limón is one of the best military writers ever" (Lee Child).

Early one rainy morning, the head of the 8th United States Army Claims Office in Seoul, South Korea, is brutally murdered by a Korean man in a trench coat with a small iron sickle hidden in his sleeve. The attack is a complete surprise, carefully planned and clinically executed. How did this unidentified Korean civilian get onto the tightly controlled US Army base? And why attack the claims officer—is there an unsettled grudge, a claim of damages that was rejected by the US Army?

Against orders, CID agents George Sueño and Ernie Bascom start to investigate. Somehow, no one they speak to has been interviewed yet. The 8th Army isn't great at solving cases, but they aren't usually this bad, either. George and Ernie begin to suspect that someone doesn't want the case solved.

Martin Limón proves once again why he is hailed by his peers as one of the greatest military writers of his time.

2015 Washington State Book Award Finalist
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2014

"As always, the author vividly contrasts adventures in the seamy side of Seoul's nightlife with a sensitive appreciation for Korea's ancient culture." —The Seattle Times

"Limón brilliantly combines a procedural with a harrowing portrayal of the wounds of war . . . The secret at the heart of the crimes is truly chilling, and Limón's nuanced characters enhance a fast-paced, carefully crafted plot." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    The man with the iron sickle entered Yongsan Compound on a Monday morning in the middle of October at approximately zero seven forty-five. This is the hour when the bulk of the Korean workforce rushes through the pedestrian entrance at Gate Number Five toward the hundreds of jobs they fill in the headquarters of the 8th United States Army in Seoul, Republic of Korea.
    He must've shown an ID card.
    Most of the Korean workers wear them dangling from lanyards or clipped to their lapels. A contract-hire gate guard checked the identification of every person shuffling single file through the narrow passageway, a chore he'd performed every weekday for years. Interviewed later, he admitted he didn't have time to compare every card to every face. The crush of people was too great. So the ID card might've been a forgery
    or it might've been stolen, and there's at least the chance it might've been borrowed from someone else.
    The weather that morning had been blustery, with cold rain splashing beneath the tires of the military vehicles and the big PX Ford Granada taxis rolling through the heavily guarded gate. An American MP wearing a rain-soaked poncho slowed each vehicle and peered inside, looking for unauthorized passengers. Occasionally, he ordered a driver to stop and pop open a trunk. If no contraband was found and all the passengers showed military or dependent identification, he waved them through.
    At first it was thought the man with the sickle might've taken a cab onto the compound, but every PX taxi driver on duty that morning was questioned and not one admitted to taking on a non-US military fare. Dispatch records confirmed the main pickup points had been Niblo Barracks, the UN Compound, and Yongsan Compound South Post--US military installations, all--thereby corroborating their assertions. Korean taxis--often called "kimchi cabs"--are never allowed on US military compounds.
    What we did know was the man with the sickle was tall for a Korean, a couple of inches short of six feet, and that he wore a raindamp overcoat. After entering Gate Five, he made his way through the headquarters complex approximately a quarter mile to the 8th United States Army Claims Office. Many of the 8th Army headquarters buildings are long, stately, two-story brick edifices originally constructed during occupation by the Japanese Imperial Army. Since then, the 8th United States Army built cement block single-story offices in a row that runs behind the ornate headquarters building itself. These utilitarian constructs reach some two hundred yards to the 8th Army Judge Advocate General's Office. It was from amongst this row of buildings that the man with the sickle struck.
    The sickle itself was a small farm implement the Koreans call a naht, a twelve-inch, crescent-shaped blade attached to a wooden handle about a foot and a half long. It is meant to be used with one hand, most often to cut rice shoots or to trim grass. But when this otherwise innocuous instrument is sharpened to a razor's edge, it can be used quite effectively for murder.
    At approximately zero eight oh five, when the man with the sickle entered the front door of the 8th United States Army Claims Office, he was greeted respectfully by Mrs. Han Ok-mi, the receptionist. The man stood with his hands at his side, his overcoat buttoned, and nodded to Mrs. Han. She testified later that his speech was guttural, as if he was either extremely nervous or suffering from some sort of speech defect. She also noticed the right side of his lower lip was puffy and dark purple. Being a polite woman, she didn't stare at the deformity. The man with the sickle requested to...

About the Author-
  • Martin Limón retired from military service after twenty years in the US Army, including ten years in Korea. He is the author of numerous books in the Sueño and Bascom series, including the New York Times Notable Jade Lady Burning, Slicky Boys, The Iron Sickle, Nightmare Range, and The Ville Rat. He lives near Seattle.


Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 30, 2014
    Limón brilliantly combines a procedural with a harrowing portrayal of the wounds of war in his ninth novel featuring U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division agents George Sueño and Ernie Bascom (after 2012’s The Joy Brigade). Sueño and Bascom, who are serving in South Korea in the 1970s, have developed a reputation for pursuing the truth without regard for the consequences. They must once again balance integrity with professional (and personal) survival in the case of a Korean man, who entered the Seoul compound that houses the office responsible for claims for reparations, compensation, and damages against units attached to United States Forces Korea and slit the throat of its civilian head, C. Winston Barretsford, with a sickle. Sueño’s fluency in Korean gives him an advantage in tracking the killer, even as his superiors try to divert the pair with other duties. The murderer, who left a bizarre totem, including wire and a dead rat, strikes again, upping the pressure on the partners to solve the case. The secret at the heart of the crimes is truly chilling, and Limón’s nuanced characters enhance a fast-paced, carefully crafted plot. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyons Literary.

  • Booklist

    August 1, 2014
    The peacetime army offers a rich setting for crime fictionlife in a legendarily inflexible bureaucracyand Limn has exploited it superbly in his long-running series starring Sergeants George Sueo and Ernie Bascom, which takes place in Korea in the 1970s. This time the two CID officers face an unusually complex case. The head of the 8th Army Claims Office in Seoul, a unit that handles charges of wrongdoing by the army against Korean citizens, has been brutally murdered by an assailant wielding a lethal iron sickle. As Sueo and Bascom attempt to investigate, it quickly becomes clear that rival factions of the local police, as well as army higher-ups, want this one to be solved on their terms. That doesn't wash with the determinedly individualistic sergeants, who, like Martin Cruz Smith's Russian investigator Arkady Renko, also battling an inflexible bureaucracy, care more about the case at hand than the politics surrounding it. Limn builds suspense expertly while gradually shedding light on the atrocity behind the murder. This is a fine, character-driven tale, drenched in fascinating Korean War history and reflecting the author's firsthand knowledge of army life.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • The Seattle Times "As always, the author vividly contrasts adventures in the seamy side of Seoul's nightlife with a sensitive appreciation for Korea's ancient culture."
  • Robert Anglen, The Arizona Republic "Limón has a profound ability to depict everyday South Korean civilian life in a police state, where anyone can be taken off the streets and lost to an impersonal bureaucratic machine . . . His vivid portraits of Korea, particularly the Itaewon district where Sueño and Bascom often work black-market duty, are deeply textured, nuanced, intimate. He doesn't just describe the clamor and sweat inside an ex-pat bar crowded with GIs. He drops you onto the bar stool and hands you a glass."
  • Shelf Awareness "Limón engages readers by blending Korean history, lore and geography with a tightly developed plot . . . Sueño and Bascom are a fascinating pair who add occasional levity without overshadowing the gravity of the novel's subject matter."
  • Bookreporter.com "Limón builds tension expertly . . . A fine, character-driven tale, drenched in fascinating Korean War history and reflecting the author's firsthand knowledge of army life." --Booklist "Readers will feel as if they are right there alongside Sueño and Bascom exploring the foreign Korean landscape."
  • Scott Montgomery, BookPeople Bookstore "The Iron Sickle is a great introduction to the Sueño-Bascom series while building on what came before. Limón looks at history and culture, and at the sins of each, with two heroes who understand the true meaning of justice. You'll be going back for the other books after you've read this one."
  • Publishers Weekly, Starred Review Praise for Martin Limón's Sergeant George Sueño Series "Limón brilliantly combines a procedural with a harrowing portrayal of the wounds of war . . . The secret at the heart of the crimes is truly chilling, and Limón's nuanced characters enhance a fast-paced, carefully crafted plot."
  • Wall Street Journal "Limón is one of the best military writers ever. His stories are addictive entertainment today--and valuable slices of history tomorrow." --Lee Child "Limón is an expert guide to Korea and the U.S. army whose passionate commitment to his subject is expressed in direct, searing prose." --John Burdett, international bestselling author of Bangkok 8 "[Combines] the grim routine of a modern police procedural with the cliff-hanging action of a thriller movie."
  • Maureen Corrigan, NPR.org "[W]hat a great gift any of Limón's six mysteries starring Army Sgts. George Sueño and Ernie Bascom would make for those mystery lovers who haven't yet discovered them! . . . Imbued with affecting characters, a morally knotty storyline, and a last chapter that just plain stuns."
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The Iron Sickle
Sergeants Sueño and Bascom Series, Book 9
Martin Limón
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