“GI Confidential” by Martin Limón is set in South Korea in the tumultuous early seventies and offers an inside look at life in the real Korea of the time. The United States armed forces had withdrawn from Vietnam, and the political world was divided among the Western powers, the Soviet Union, and Red China. The U.S could not leave Korea in the middle of a “Cold War.” Through the first person narrative of George Sueño, 8th Army Criminal Investigation Division, readers are immersed in the conflict between cultures, political powers, and crime. The book opens with a crime, a bank robbery by GIs. Bank employees are terrified because GIs had never robbed a bank before; this just did not happen in South Korea.
Limón skillfully blends historical perspective with a compelling search to find the real perpetrators of the crime, not just a politically correct choice foisted upon the team by the powers down the line. The investigation proceeds in an orderly and organized manner and is usually (but not always) in keeping with army protocol. During the process, readers get a personal look at the politics of war, the uneasy peace between Korean nationals and the U.S. occupying forces, and the cost of pursuing the truth rather than dispensing propaganda.
“GI Confidential” is not a story about war; it is a story about those who find themselves in the midst of a conflict that no one wants, no one can resolve, and everyone must accommodate. I was given a review copy of “GI Confidential” by Martin Limón, Soho Crime, and Random House. It is easy to read with compelling and humorous characters. The genuine respect Limón has for the Korean people and their culture is as unmistakable as his ability to tell a compelling and relaxed story about definitely not relaxing crime and war.