Mr. Kill (Sergeants Sueño and Bascom Series #7)by Martin Limón
On a crowded train to Seoul from Pusan, a Korean woman is trapped in the bathroom and brutally raped in front of her children. Eyewitness account indicate the culprit was a white man, most likely a US serviceman. By the time Sergeant George Sueño of the US 8th Army is called in to investigate, the rapist has disappeared, and the Korean witnesses have had a chance to get very angry about the situation--and all it represents. Many Koreans are resentful of the continued American presence in Korea, and George has a delicate situation on his hands.
Of course, the US Army wants to do what they can to ensure they are not connected to the crime. If he wants to see justice done, George is going to have to carry out his investigation against the direct orders of his own office, who have assigned him and his partner, Ernie Bascom, a frivolous job of tagging along with an all-female American country band and investigating their missing supplies. But when a second Korean woman is attacked--and this time ends up dead--8th Army can't ignore the serial rapist anymore. With the help of the legendary Korean investigator known as Mr. Kill, George and Ernie embark on what may just be the most dangerous case of their careers.
“The suspense mounts, augmented by Bascom's bad temper and very tough partner, in a fascinating place, when tensions among American military personnel and Korean civilians were high. Mix in the psycho profile of the villain, and "Mr. Kill" speeds along like a bullet train.” Grade: A-
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“This series is a must not only for procedural fans but also for anyone who enjoys crime fiction set in distinctive international locales.”
—Booklist, Starred Review
“Excellent.... A vivid view of Asia, from the Demilitarized Zone to the Yellow Sea, and an insightful look at the era lift this fine entry.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"A moral switch-back ride from the Korean DMZ to the Yellow Sea. Limón’s intrepid team of Mr. Kill, the local sleuth, together with Sueño and Bascom, those rough housing army investigators, take us on a wild trip to find the white man who raped the girl on the Blue Train, while the whole country burns with indignation. Limón is an expert guide to Korea and the U.S. army whose passionate commitment to his subject is expressed in direct, searing prose. A not-to-be-missed addition to the growing library of novels about Southeast Asia by people who know what they are talking about."
—John Burdett, New York Times bestselling author of Bangkok 8
“Another solid police procedural, grounded in muscular prose and enhanced by unique local color.”
“The interplay among the three detectives provides an intriguing view of two cultures…. The story, while an engaging mystery, is particularly notable for providing an evocative map of South Korea and offers insights into two complex cultures: Korean society and military life.”
—Reviewing the Evidence
Read an Excerpt
Hot metal shrieked as the Blue Train express from Pusan
braked its way into the vast yard of Seoul-yok, the downtown
Seoul Railroad Station. Someone barked an order.
Two squads of khaki-clad Korean National Policemen
fanned out along the cement platform, prowling like
shadows through roiling clouds of vapor.
“Whoever this guy is,” Ernie told me, “G.I. or not, he’s
about to be introduced to a whole world of butt-kick.”
My name is George Sueño. I’m an investigator for the
Criminal Investigation Division of the 8th United States
Army in Seoul, Republic of Korea. Myy partner, Ernie
Bascom, and I stood with our backs against brick, waiting
in this overcast afternoon for the arrival of a train that,
according to railroad authorities, held tragedy. The Blue
Train engineer radioed ahead that a female passenger in
car number three had been threatened with a knife and
raped. She was found by one of the stewardesses cowering
in the lavatory, too incoherent to give much information,
but claiming that the perpetrator had been a kocheingi. A
big-nose. In other words, a foreigner.
In the early seventies, what with 700,000 fire-breathing
Communist soldiers on the far side of the DMZ just thirty
miles north of here, there weren’t many tourists in the
Republic of Korea. Nor were there many European businessmen,
and only a smattering of diplomats. The foreigners
most likely to be using the Blue Train on this Monday
morning were Miguks. Americans. And those Americans
were most likely to be among the 50,000 or so G.I.s who
fell under the jurisdiction of the 8th United States Army.
Therefore, the call had been made by the Korean National
Police to us, the agents of 8th Army CID.
Exactly who this guy was, we didn’t know. All we knew
for sure was that the crime had been committed sometime
after the Blue Train pulled out of Taejon. Between there
and here, no stops. The Blue Line takes about four hours
and fifty minutes, total, to travel the almost 400 kilometers
from Pusan to Seoul, with only two brief layovers,
the first at the East Taegu Station and the second at Taejon.
At each scheduled stop, the train pauses for less than five
minutes. After leaving Taejon, whoever perpetrated this
crime would’ve had no way to get off the train. Therefore,
we were assuming, as were all these Korean cops, that he
was still aboard.
Lieutenant Shin, the officer in charge of the KNP
detail, told me that the engineer had further explained
that the victim was a young mother with two children
in tow. Apparently, she’d left her son and her daughter in
their seats while she used the bathroom. That’s where she’d
been assaulted. The rapist forced his way into the small
bathroom behind her and threatened her with a knife,
slicing the flesh of her throat superficially. The blood
and the blade had convinced her to comply with what he
demanded. Everything he demanded.
The cops in Lieutenant Shin’s detail already knew that
a woman with children had been assaulted by someone
they assumed to be an American G.I. They weren’t happy
about such a non-Confucian crime being committed in
broad daylight in a public place, and they allowed their
anger to show when they glared at Ernie and at me, as if
we were somehow responsible.
Steam puffed from the sides of the train. With a huge
sigh, the big engine shut down. Usually, even before
wheels stop rolling, people would already be hopping off
metal steps, hurrying to beat the crowd filtering toward
the front gate of the main station. Today, eerily, nobody
moved. If I hadn’t been able to make out seated silhouettes
through the fog-smudged windows, I would’ve thought it
was a train full of ghosts.
Lieutenant Shin barked more orders, and two cops
took up positions at the ends of each passenger car. Other
cops covered the opposite side of the train. Thus surrounded,
all possibility of escape was eliminated.
Behind us, on the overhead ramparts, a crowd gathered,
people waiting for other trains. Some of the civilians
murmured loudly about Miguk-nom, base American
louts. Somehow they’d gotten wind of what had happened.
Accompanied by Lieutenant Shin, Ernie and I climbed
aboard the first passenger car. The head conductor, wearing
a high-collared black coat and pillbox hat, was already
waiting. He was a craggy-faced man, middle-aged, with
his feet planted shoulder-width apart as if from years of
pacing up and down rocking central aisles.
“She’s in car three,” he said in Korean. I translated for
Ernie. “The children are confused,” he continued. “They
know something happened to their mother, something
bad, but they don’t know what.”
“Has the perpetrator been identified?” Lieutenant Shin
“No. All she told the stewardess was that he’s a kocheingi.”
He glanced toward Ernie and me. I nodded for him
to continue. “She’s in her seat, huddled with her children.
So far, she refuses to move.”
“Take us,” Lieutenant Shin told him.
We followed the conductor down the center aisle. As
we did so, row after row of Asian faces turned up to us,
some of them frightened, more of them angry. I heard
epithets whispered, a few familiar, a few I’d never heard
“Tough crowd,” Ernie mumbled behind me.
As we passed from car to car, Ernie and I checked the
bathrooms, just to make sure no one was hiding in them.
No one was. They were small, locked from the inside, and
under normal circumstances barely large enough to hold
Finally we entered car three and stopped. A gaggle of
grandmothers, clad in traditional Korean dresses, surrounded
two of the seats. As we approached, they turned
their headsand, one by one, faces soured. Wrinkled eyes
evaluated me, finding me in some way disgusting, flashing
disapproval—at me, and at the crime that had been
perpetrated on this Blue Train from Pusan.
It wasn’t me, I wanted to shout. Although I’ve been
falsely accused before, and I know the sick feeling in the
gut, I’ve never in my life threatened anyone with a knife—
nor have I raped anyone. I stifled the urge to scream at
these women. I’m a cop, not a rapist. Ernie fidgeted behind
me. Americans are generally welcome in Korea. It wasn’t
often that we faced such hatred, but we were feeling it
now—down to our bones.
Lieutenant Shin stepped forward, breaking the silence.
With a rustle of silk, angry grandmothers stepped away.
The victim was a petite woman, five foot two or three,
maybe just slightly over a hundred pounds. She sat huddled
with her two children, the boy about four, the girl
about six. She wouldn’t look up. Lieutenant Shin spoke to
“Are you hurt badly?” he asked.
She didn’t answer.
“Can you show me where you’re cut?”
The children stared at us with wide, worried eyes.
When the woman still wouldn’t answer, Lieutenant Shin
reached out and touched her arm. Like a startled spider,
she flinched, curling herself into a tiny ball. The children
clung more tightly to their mother and started to cry.
That’s when I saw it. Blood. On the side of her neck. The
wound hadn’t been completely stanched. The blood trickled
slowly down the side of her small neck, staining the
round collar of her dress, pooling against bone.
The grandmothers had had enough. They pushed
themselves between Lieutenant Shin and the woman,
shooing him away.
He refused to back off. The authority of the elderly in a
Confucian society like Korea is great, but not greater than
the law. Still, the presence of two kocheingis was making
his job more difficult. He motioned with his eyes for Ernie
and me to continue on ahead of him toward the rear of
the car. We did, passing another surly group of passengers
craning their necks to see what was going on.
According to the conductor, the bathroom at the back
of the car was where the crime had been committed. A
nervous stewardess in a stylish blue skirt, white blouse,
and matching blue cap explained in Korean that more than
an hour ago she’d received complaints from other passengers
that someone was in the bathroom and wouldn’t
come out. The stewardess investigated, pounded on the
door, and finally coaxed whoever was inside to open up.
She found the victim crouched on the floor, dress ripped,
blood seeping from a slice on the side of her neck, covering
her face with splayed fingers. The stewardess immediately
reported the incident to the head conductor. Together
they bandaged the wound and, after much coaxing, managed
to escort the devastated woman out of the bathroom
and down the aisle to her seat.
“Did you see the foreigner?” I asked the stewardess.
She shook her head.
“Did you or the conductor see an American up here in
“No. And neither did any of the passengers. They’ve
been talking among themselves nonstop since this thing
happened. Only now, because the police are here, are
The Korean National Police are a mixed blessing. They
maintain order, plenty of it. But sometimes they maintain
that order at a high price, especially if you’re on the receiving
end of a polished wooden nightstick.
“So no one saw a foreigner in car three?” I asked.
The stewardess nodded. I explained what she’d said to
Ernie. He pushed open a door, and air rushed into the car.
We both studied the metal walkway leading back toward
“Where are the Americans?” I asked the stewardess.
At the RTO, 8th Army’s Rail Transportation Office,
tickets are issued free to G.I.s on official travel and sold
at a discounted rate to those on leave or pass or other
forms of unofficial travel. Eighth Army’s policy is to try,
whenever possible, to keep all the Americans in the same
The stewardess showed us with her eyes, glancing back
at car four.
Lieutenant Shin approached. While the stewardess
went over the same ground with him, I crouched and
studied the interior of the bathroom. There wasn’t much
to be seen. A little splashed water. A low toilet—porcelain
embedded in the floor, Korean style, made for squatting; a
small sink; and an unraveled roll of paper.
In the center aisle, men in blue smocks were trundling
toward us. Stenciled on their chests, in white block hangul
letters, was the word Kyongchal. Police. Keeping his voice
low so the female victim couldn’t hear, Lieutenant Shin
briefed them. These were the technicians who would be
searching the bathroom for traces of blood or semen or
hair. I was impressed. So was Ernie. In the Itaewon bar district,
loaded with business girls who catered to American
G.I.s, rape wasn’t taken nearly as seriously. As the technicians
placed their gear on the floor and squatted down
to get to work, one of the them said in Korean, “First the
mother of our country, and now this.”
Lieutenant Shin stationed a young cop near the bathroom
to make sure that no one interfered with the crime
scene or with the technicians.
What we did next was what Ernie’d been aching to do
since we arrived at Seoul Station, ever since we’d been subjected
to the hatred in the eyes of the masses of Koreans
surrounding us: he reached in his pocket and pulled out a
shining set of brass knuckles. Slipping them over his fingers,
he clenched his fist, enjoying the fit and the satisfying
heft of the finely crafted metal. Satisfied, he nodded. Lieutenant
Shin took the lead. Together, we entered car four.
Autumn had fallen quickly in Korea. This was not unusual
in itself—seasons change rapidly on the Korean Peninsula—
but it had also fallen early. Gray clouds appeared,
and gloomy winds started to blow. A week and a half ago,
August 15, had been the 29th anniversary of Korea’s liberation
from the occupying forces of the Japanese Imperial
Army. The Japanese had taken over the country in 1910,
stripping the Korean monarchy and the Korean legislature
of any real power, and ruled the entire peninsula as a
colony until 1945.
To mark this all-important day, Pak Chung-hee, the
former Army colonel and current authoritarian president
of South Korea, had given a speech to a packed hall.
Unfortunately, a Japanese national, believed to be in
the employ of North Korea, smuggled a gun into the hall
and took a few potshots at the president. Pak Chung-hee
crouched behind his heavily fortified podium and was not
harmed. His security guards, however, pulled their own
weapons and returned fire, and for a few mad seconds
hot lead zinged all over the auditorium. One of the bullets
struck the head of Yuk Young-soo, the wife of the president,
who’d been sitting on the stage only a few feet from
her husband. She was rushed to the hospital but declared
dead on arrival.
Like most first ladies around the world, Yuk Young-soo
was popular, much more popular than her husband. The
death of such a vital woman, the mother of three young
children, shocked the country, sending it into mourning.
Only hours after she died, the blue skies of summer disappeared
with the onset of autumn.
Does a country have a mood? Maybe. Maybe not. We
only read our own moods into what we see around us. But
if countries do have moods, the mood of the Republic of
Korea was surly right now. Surly to the point of tipping
over into rage.
As we entered car four, rows of passengers gaped at us.
They were mostly Koreans, but there were a few American
faces scattered among them. While Lieutenant Shin and
the ranking sergeant in his detail asked for identification
and briefly interviewed the Korean nationals, Ernie and I
studied the Americans. The faces were confused and concerned,
but nobody bolted for the door.
I pulled out my badge and held it up.
“Good morning, everyone. I’m Agent Sueño. This is
Agent Bascom. We’re going to be asking you some questions.
First, I’d like everyone to pull out their identification
and their travel orders.”
“What if you don’t have travel orders?” one of the G.I.s
“Then your leave orders will have to do,” Ernie replied.
Every American G.I. had to be able to prove that he had
permission to be away from his compound. If he didn’t,
we’d report him to his unit and non-judicial punishment
could ensue. This was punishment short of court-martial,
like restriction to the barracks or forfeiture of pay for less
than thirty days.
While Ernie stayed inside the car, I took the American
passengers outside onto the platform, one by one,
and interviewed them. I wrote down their names, units
of assignment, serial numbers, and the issuing headquarters
of their temporary duty instructions. G.I.s don’t travel
much in Korea, unless they’re under what we call TDY—
temporary duty—orders. There were a total of seven G.I.s
in car number four. One was a courier carrying a packet
of classified documents. Another was on his way home on
emergency leave orders; apparently he had a child back
home who was gravely ill. Four of the G.I.s were Signal
Corps technicians on their way to do some repair work at
the 42nd Long Lines Battalion at Camp Coiner. The last
G.I. was an officer under orders to report to 8th Army
headquarters for a SOFA Conference, a joint ROK/US
Status of Forces Agreement confab.
Nobody was on unauthorized travel. Nobody was
absent without leave. At least, that’s the way it seemed
so far. The paperwork they showed me could have been
forged. It was even possible that their ID cards were
phony. Unlikely, but possible. Later today, Ernie and I
would be checking out the validity of their stories, but for
the moment I was taking what they told me at face value.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Another great mystery focused in Korea in the 70's from the DMZ to the Yellow Sea. Sergeants George Sueno and Ernie Bascom, U.S. Army investigators, are called in, a rapist has disappeared and anti-American fervor in this proud Asian country is threatening to explode. This book introduces George Sueno and Ernie Bascom to a ruthless Korean homicide investigator known to anyone foolish enough to cross him as Mr. Kill. Limon writes this series so well and this is another good one!