reading pile

Recent Reads – G.I. Bones & The Twelve Caesars

Martin Limón’s G.I. Bones is an immensely enjoyable and smart novel. Set in 1970s Korea, it follows two military police investigators, Sergeants Sueño and Bascom; they’re on the trail of a deceased US soldier in order to locate his bones. This is to help a Korean fortune teller, so she will not be haunted by the dead man’s ghost any longer. It’s a pretty cool set-up to a novel, with the right amount of mumbo-jumbo versus logic. Soon enough our investigators – guided by the first person narrative of Latino soldier Sueño – are plunged into the dark and exotic world of 70s South Korea, from the local gangs to the red light district, to the US military camp and the tropical villages. The world and culture is brought to life with phenomenal eye for detail. I often think that the crime is rarely central to the success of a crime novel – it’s merely what binds the rest together. The rest comes down to location, character, narrative skill, prose and so on.

So I don’t want to linger too much on the plot – though it is indeed nicely sophisticated. But I do want to mention the what makes Sueño particularly interesting as a character: he is a lead who manages to be respectful to women, different races, local culture and so on, in a world and period (and, we’re led to believe, of a type of soldier), where this sort of thing just isn’t the norm. Sueño’s non-mysogenistic and tolerant presence is a really interesting contradiction to those detective novels for whom women are simply plot points or wet dreams for the author or detective in question. And that makes Limón a very interesting writer. For a really good review of this novel, go here. I thought this was an excellent novel, full of style, acute observations and possesses a wonderful understanding of people.

What can really be said about one of the defining books of the classical age that hasn’t been said already? For those of you who don’t know, Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars is a collection of biographies of some of the defining figures of Ancient Rome, and arguably one the most famous families in history. Beginning with the conquests of Julius Caesar and ending with Domitian, second son of Vespasian, it offers commentary on the qualities of these emperors (and dictator), their legacy, and their performance on the world stage – as well as in the bedroom.

It is, as you would expect, a lively old book, but surprisingly readable for something that was published in AD 121. It’s rather sensational at times, particularly when Suetonius discusses the antics of Caligula and Nero. It is, of course, hard to say what was real or what was gossip – and some of it does seem rather outrageous (but when you’re one of the most powerful men the world has ever known, pretty much anything goes…). Whether or not you believe much of what Suetonius writes about, it’s clear from reading other contemporary authors that his influence on our knowledge of the period is profound.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

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