Martin Limon has been credited with writing “the best military mysteries in print today” by bestselling author Lee Child. With The Wandering Ghost, the fifth novel in the Sergeants Sueno and Bascom mystery series, he continues his exemplary track record with a thoroughly engaging mystery that takes place within the American military camps located in Korea during the early and mid-1970s.
George Sueno and Ernie Bascom are Civilian Detectives (CID Unit) who are charged with investigating any criminal matters involving members of the U.S military stationed around Korea. In The Wandering Ghost, they are tasked with an assignment to locate Corporal Jill Matthewson, the only female MP
on a base in the Korean DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) who has gone missing. During the start of their investigation of her
camp (the 2nd Infantry Unit), they find out that another MP, Marvin Druwood, had been found dead on the Camp’s obstacle course, the victim of an apparent suicide. The leaders of the
camp try to paint a picture of Druwood committing suicide due to being rejected by MP Matthewson. However, Sueno and Bascom do not follow this line of reasoning as they search Druwood’s corpse to find residue of concrete lodged in his skull; the obstacle course has no concrete.
A letter from a U.S. congressman, sent on behalf of Corporal Matthewson’s mother in the States, is what prompts the investigation. Sueno and Bascom feel that the leaders of her Camp - specifically Colonel Alcott and Desk Sergeant Bufford - are all to ready to dismiss the Matthewson case as a mere AWOL and wrap things up quick and tidy. As the investigation continues, Sueno and Bascom discover that Jill took a second job as a patrol-person for a Korean village called Tongduchon located near her camp. It seems she needed any reason to be away from the constant male dominance and sexual harassment she was inflicted with during her MP duties. Was she a victim of foul play? Could her disappearance be directly linked to the death of MP Druwood, or is something bigger and more sinister going on?
Traveling among the various Korean towns and villages, Sueno and Bascom find a picture being painted of an area riddled with prostitution, blackmarketeering and corruption. To confuse matters, Jill Matthewson was a direct witness to an incident in which a young Korean girl named Chon Un-suk was killed by an out-of-control U.S. military jeep driven by two officers from the 2nd Infantry.
Korean culture dictates that when a person dies away from home, their spirit will remain unsettled and thereby become a ‘wandering ghost.’ The only way to save the spirit from eternal unrest and wandering is for the person who was last in contact with the body before it passed to participate in an ancient ritual to put the spirit at rest. Sueno and Bascom find out from Chon Un-suk’s parent that Jill Matthewson was the last to touch their daughter before she died, and they are in as much need of locating her as the U.S. military detectives.
The title of the novel, “The Wandering Ghost,” presents a metaphor that not only represents the spirit of the dead girl but also Corporal Jill Matthewson, who may also be wandering in a state of unrest. Martin Limon’s novel is well-crafted, and each chapter presents a deeper image of what Sergeants Sueno and Bascom are truly up against. They find themselves in a fight for their own careers and lives inside a tumultuous Korea that is beginning to riot against the military base that they hold responsible for murdering one of their own citizens. The truth may be best left alone - all of the lead characters in this crisp novel stand to lose everything if it is uncovered.