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Number 1 Shimbun

Rambling Through North Korea

Rambling Through North Korea

by Todd Crowell

Brad Martin’s earlier book, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, was a fact-packed tome of nearly 900 pages of small type that could easily be described as THE book on North Korea. The question for Brad was what to do for an encore?

He could have written a sequel, bringing everyone up-to-date on the new fatherly leader, Kim Jong-un, and bringing the crisis on the Korean Peninsula up-to-the moment. But that presented a problem. In researching his critically acclaimed first book published by St. Martin’s Press in 2004, he had burned a lot of bridges and was not confident that he would be welcomed back.

There being no such censorship with the imagination, however, Brad decided to turn to fiction, drawing on his experiences from past visits, but introducing a whole swatch of new, colorful characters and adventures into the mixture.

Despite not being a sequel in the mode of Under the Loving Care, a fair amount of the story in Rambling Through North Korea takes place in North Korea with the kind of detail that only could come from someone who has actually been in Pyongyang and other North Korean spots several times.

There are, of course, other locales in the book, including Moscow, China and Tokyo, where the Foreign Correspondent’s Club makes a cameo appearance.

Brad’s Book Break on Oct. 25 was unusual to say the least with even the moderator being encouraged to participate in a short skit. The audience was also entertained by noted bluesman “Rambling” Steve Gardner (also a regular in the club’s Saturday Night Live music program, I’m told).

Rambling Steve figures prominently in the book as Heck Davis, described as a burn’t-out photojournalist turned blues singer. He gets the plot moving when while in North Korea he sees a reporter friend gunned down at the 38th Parallel.

Dodging attempts on his own life, the bourbon-drinking, Bible-quoting back-talking son of a white Mississippi father and a Korean mother searches for answers in the heart of darkness otherwise known as North Korea.

An unusual mixture of elements go into Nuclear Blues. Aside from the hard-driving, bourbon-drinking and Bible-thumping Davis, the reader is treated to evangelical Christianity where a purported evangelical university hides a missile factory – a kind of Graham Greene-meets-Tom Clancy tale. Also involved in various ways are Iranian militants and credit default swaps (CDS).

Credit Default Swaps?!?

How this figures in the plot is not easily understood, especially from somebody like me who could not define what a CDS is if his life depended on it. As Brad explained at his Book Break, a North Korean Provocation could manipulate the credit default swaps market.

So is this a financial thriller? Best as I can tell, Brad doesn’t set himself up as a expert on the subject, and few of us journos do outside the ranks of specialized reporters, and Brad’s bio doesn’t suggest finance as being one of his specialties.

There is also a religious angle to the book. Both Brad and Rambling Steve grew up the Southern Baptist church environment. So again, is Nuclear Blues really a religious thriller, a kind of Graham Green-meets-Tom Clancy story?

Of course, Brad has his own views on the latest crisis over North Korea’s nuclear/missile program with the best outcome transpiring if the North Koreans themselves world take down the regime.

One can trust the missile references in the book, as missile expert Lance Gatling, who appeared at one of the club’s recent professional luncheons, vetted the novel for accuracy.

Brad describes himself as a “happy self publisher.” Nuclear Blue can be purchased through Amazon from Dec. 31, although pre-orders are now being taken.

Published in: November 2017

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