There are very few English language novels set in South Korea, which makes Ron McMillan’s new book Yin Yang Tattoo a good read for people interested in Korea. Most of the book is set in Seoul where readers will recognize many familiar names such as the Grand Hyatt, bars in Itaewon, neighborhoods in Seoul, the Cheongyecheon, etc. The book does take a few excursions out of Seoul such as to one of my favorite areas in Korea, Geoje-do Island that adds a little diversity to the locations in the book, but the storyline, not where it is set is what ultimately makes a novel worth reading.
The storyline in the book follows London based photographer Alec Brodie who travels to Seoul to work a photo shoot for the fictional South Korean conglomerate, the K-N Group. The cash strapped Brodie a decade prior had worked as a photojournalist in Korea and the chance to return for this well paying assignment was opportunity to good to be true, which is what it ended up ultimately being. What was supposed to be a simple photo shoot for a business brochure ended up getting Brodie involved in a massive corporate fraud involving the K-N Group and its investment dealings in North Korea. Brodie wants out of the deal, but is framed for the murder of a prostitute with a Taeguki tattooed on her belly button by a K-N Group operative in order to ensure his compliance with the business scam. The fictional Korean “chaebol” in the book does not have a positive image so McMillan wisely has a disclaimer telling readers that the K-N Group is not based on any real Korean conglomerate. Hopefully this helps him avoid receiving the Michael Breen treatment from a thin skinned chaebol public relations hack.
Here are some things about the book that I liked:
- As mentioned the setting in South Korea, rare for a English language novel.
- Being in the military it was interesting to read about the business expat perspective on Korea that I know little about.
- The book I thought flowed well and was a quick read.
Here are somethings I didn’t like:
- McMillan does add some tidbits about Korean customs and culture in the book, but I would liked to have seen more historical tidbits about Korean locales and buildings.
- The main character in the book I didn’t really care for since he was such a drunk and womanizer, but this was probably intentional by the author in order to allow the character to redeem himself despite his failings.
The author Ron McMillan is a former photojournalist who is now a full-time writer based in Bangkok so it is easy to see where the inspiration for his main character Alec Brodie comes from. The Yin Yang Tattoo is his first in a series of books set in various Asian locales featuring Alec Brodie. Hopefully he makes his way back to Korea in a future novel because I have always thought that Korea would make an interesting location for crime/mystery novels just like how my favorite crime/mystery author Sujata Massey uses Japan as the backdrop for her books.
Overall, the murder plot and suspense in this book may not be as good as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (few books are), but McMillan’s Yin Yang Tattoo is definitely worth a read.
By the way besides being available on Amazon for purchase, check your local AAFES outlet in South Korea and other Pacific locations for the book as well.