Not my usual order, but in this case I’m talking about a certain James Church, writer of a particularly excellent first-thriller called A Corpse in the Koryo. (It doesn’t come out until October, and if the title changes between now and then—as I well know, these things happen—I’ll let you know.) I recently read it in manuscript, sent by my publisher, and I was damned well impressed.

So what’s a Koryo? Well, it’s the Hotel Koryo in Pyongyang. That’s right, North Korea. Which as you can guess is right up my alley. And the cop in this mystery (the genre’s somewhere between police procedural—light on the procedure—and espionage) is the brilliantly named Inspector O.

O is an endearing character, with a mix of necessary pragmatism and romanticism (in particular concerning wood), as well as authentic complexity. I don’t know if Koryo is the start of a series, but I hope it is.

It’s not just the milieu that appeals—though that certainly does, taking the reader to a place few know at all. More, it’s the writing—a beautifully honed minimalism that nonetheless evokes its scenes with great detail. I love it when writers are able to leave room for the reader’s imagination. It takes talent to know where to leave those spaces, and James Church has plenty of such talent.

The question I had now and then was: Who is James Church? That’s a bit of a mystery. The bio only says he worked a long time for “a Western intelligence service.” (I quote this from memory, the bio’s on my desk at home.) Now, that leaves the field open. But he’s certainly familiar with North Korea, and so my imagination starts running. The only other clue is in the manuscript itself, its final words:

January 2003, Prague

So it’s someone stationed—or relaxing—in Prague, who finished at least the first draft a month before my own first book came out. Maybe Church is still there in his false beard and Chairman Mao jacket. It’ll be interesting when this final mystery is exposed.