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LEMON
by Kwon Yeo-Sun, Janet Hong, trans.
Other Press, October 2021
176 pages
$20
ISBN: 1635420881


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In 2002, a beautiful young woman, Kim Hae-on, was found murdered in a Seoul park. A confused young bike delivery man who attended the same high school was suspected of the crime; he admitted passing by the car she was riding in shortly before the murder and gave contradictory testimony about it Ė but without solid evidence, he was never convicted. Seventeen years later, Hae-onís personable but less attractive younger sister, Kim Da-on, has grown obsessed with the unsolved case, and resolves to finally find out who was responsible.

Readers expecting a straightforward cold case investigation may be disappointed. This creepy, engrossing little story is told in alternate voices across the intervening years, leaving readers to figure out who is speaking and whether they can be trusted. The portrait of the victim that emerges is incomplete and mysterious, an enigma behind a beautiful face. The tortured younger sister is no less baffling in her response to the crime. For a time, consumed by jealousy and grief, she tries to bring her sister back by purging herself and turning to plastic surgeons who, despite their efforts, cannot give Da-on her sisterís flawless face. Their mother begins to refer to her dead daughter by the name she originally wanted to give her, insisting on her becoming a different child, with a different life. We also get glimpses of a wealthy couple who were in Hae-onís high school class, an upper-class boy who was with her on the day of her death but had an alibi, and the girl he married, almost as beautiful as Hae-on who becomes an anxious wreck who seeks solace in a fundamentalist prosperity-gospel Christian sect. We also learn what happened to the delivery boy, now disabled and living in poverty with his devoted sister.

These pieces have to be reassembled by the reader, like fragments of something broken and buried, excavated but incomplete. Though we never learn for certain who killed Hae-on or exactly what form her sisterís revenge has taken, what emerges is a disturbing snapshot of a class-bound society that values appearances, but beneath the surface is hollowed out and flailing for meaning.

ß Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, December 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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