The best mysteries/thrillers by writers of Korean origin

Who am I?

Ever since my high school days, when I encountered the mystery novels of Dick Francis and Robert B. Parker for the first time, I’ve been hooked on this genre. And yet it took me more than twenty years to finally write my first bona fide work of detective fiction. Why? Because I was chicken. Didn’t think I could cut it. After publishing two works of literary fiction, I figured I had enough practice to make an attempt.  Nope. Still wasn’t ready, writing myself into ugly, impossible corners. So I read Sue Grafton, John D. MacDonald, Dennis Lehane, and I kept failing better – until I failed best.

I wrote...

Skin Deep

By Sung J. Woo,

Book cover of Skin Deep

What is my book about?

Korean-American adoptee Siobhan O'Brien has spent much of her life explaining her name and her family to strangers, but a more pressing problem is whether to carry on the PI agency that her dead boss unexpectedly left to her. Easing into middle age, Siobhan would generally rather have a glazed donut than a romance, but when an old friend asks Siobhan to find her daughter who has disappeared from her dorm. As Siobhan delves deeper into her missing person search, she encounters politely dangerous men in white turtlenecks, vegan cooking that might kill her, and possibly deadly yoga poses.

The first book in a new series, fans of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone will find another classic female detective in Skin Deep’s Siobhan O’Brien.

The books I picked & why

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Your House Will Pay

By Steph Cha,

Book cover of Your House Will Pay

Why this book?

There’s a scene in Spike Lee’s 1989 movie Do the Right Thing where a Korean clerk pleads to the African-American mob about to destroy his store, “Me no white. Me Black.” The tension is more than palpable, and this is exactly the nervy road Steph navigates throughout her remarkable novel Your House Will Pay. Based on the real-life 1991 Los Angeles murder of a Black woman by a Korean convenience store owner, the twin narratives switch between the two families boiling over in this cauldron of racial violence. This brave, unflinching book offers no easy answers, which is exactly how it should be.

Miracle Creek

By Angie Kim,

Book cover of Miracle Creek

Why this book?

Have you ever heard of HBOT therapy? I hadn’t either, but after reading Angie’s Miracle Creek, you’ll know it stands for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and that people enter these pressurized chambers for all sorts of purported health benefits. Now imagine just what could go wrong in a place that has compressed oxygen, furious protestors, and a lit match. Right? Kaboom! This novel has so much page-turning momentum that you will have to force yourself to stop reading. Or, you can be weak like me and devour it in a single sitting. Get yourself prepared to go knee-deep into the muck of arson, court drama, and love gone wrong.

Country of Origin

By Don Lee,

Book cover of Country of Origin

Why this book?

There are some writers I read purely for the pleasure of a well-written sentence. Don is one of those, because he is a Literary Writer™ – he edited one of the premier literary journals for many years. But here’s the thing – he is also one hell of a plotter. This first novel of his caught the letters community by surprise, but not me; the intricate construction of his short stories could only lead to a tale as labyrinthine as this one. Featuring classic mystery tropes, Country of Origin is a missing person case that leads our hero, an American Embassy officer in Tokyo, to seedy strip clubs, dangerous love affairs, and the CIA, all delivered with surgical prose that would make Raymond Chandler blush.

A Person of Interest

By Susan Choi,

Book cover of A Person of Interest

Why this book?

For me, one of the greatest feats a writer can achieve is to make an unpleasant character eminently readable. Susan’s A Person of Interest is just that book – the lead here, an Asian math professor simply named Lee, is never exactly identified. We don’t know what country he comes from, and we don’t even learn his first name. A prickly sort, when a colleague of his gets blown to bits by a bomb (echoes of the Unabomber), it’s no wonder that he eventually becomes the title of the novel to the police. Also a literary writer like Don Lee, this novel is alive with character and brims with one dazzling line after another.

Your Republic Is Calling You

By Young-ha Kim, Chi-Young Kim (translator),

Book cover of Your Republic Is Calling You

Why this book?

Imagine for a moment that you receive an email that states the following: “Liquidate everything and return immediately.” Now imagine you are a North Korean spy who has lived in South Korea for almost twenty years, and after your handler disappeared more than a decade ago, you’ve heard nothing. Until this email. Is it real? Or has the South Korean CIA found you out and is trying to trick you? What about your wife and your daughter, both completely unaware of your true identity? Your Republic Is Calling You takes place entirely in a single day of this unfortunate spy’s life, and now you’ll have to read it to see how it ends: does he stay or does he go?

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in crime, missing persons, and North Korea?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about crime, missing persons, and North Korea.

Crime Explore 31 books about crime
Missing Persons Explore 128 books about missing persons
North Korea Explore 28 books about North Korea

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Rebecca, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Defending Jacob if you like this list.