The best mysteries/thrillers by writers of Korean origin

The Books I Picked & Why

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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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Your Republic Is Calling You

By Young-ha Kim, Chi-Young Kim

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?


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