Publisher: Penmore Press
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Pages: 488 pages
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With the approval of Kim Jong-Il, the leader of North Korea, Vice Admiral Kim Sun Pak and Major General Chun Lee Jang negotiates a lease to create a fishing boat support facility on Simushir where the Soviet Union had a submarine base during the Cold War. Simushir is in the Central Kuril Islands that the Soviet took back from the Japanese at the end of World War II. The island chain runs from the southern tip of the Kamchatka peninsula to the Jpanese island of Hokkaido.
The fishing boat support facility is a cover to create a heroin and methamphetamine drug factory far from the prying eyes of Western law enforcement agencies. The Hong Kong based Half Moon Trading Company created and funded the Kurile Island Development Corporation to refurbish the old Soviet submarine base.
Half Moon’s legitimate businesses make and market fireworks and pottery. Through contacts in Southeast Asia, Half Moon acquires the heroin base and refines it into Asian Pure. Chemicals for the methamphetamines are bought legally in the Peoples Republic of China and turned into illegal drugs in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Using North Korean Special Forces officers trained as assassins, Jang and Pak have begun eliminating potential competitors for Asian Pure and the uppers and downers. At the same time, a relative negotiated an exclusive drug distribution agreement with the Sinaloa Cartel for Southern California.
Once the fishing support facility and the drug factory was completed, Kim Jong-il, who receives a commission on every dollar of drugs sold, decides to turn the old Soviet sub base into a ballistic missile base.
Tipped off by the Japanese that Kurile Island Development Corporation has begun refurbishing the old Soviet base, Josh Haman, now the Seventh Fleet’s Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, is tasked with finding out more about the base on Broutana Bay on the north end of the island. The Seventh Fleet’s staff’s Special Warfare officer is his friend, Navy SEAL Marty Cabot.
When reconnaissance photos show North Korean Special Forces soldiers, and then later, surface-to-air missiles on the island, Haman has to figure out how to shut the base down without starting World War III. Meanwhile, an officer from his past, Stephen Higgins, tries to derail Josh’s career.
Where is Simushir?
Simushir is an island in the central Kurils that sits on the south side of the Bussol Strait which is the primary deep-water route for submarines going in and out of the Sea of Okhotsk.
Taken from Chapter 1 – RENDEVOUS
Friday, January 13th, 1995, 1425 local time, Glendale, CA
It was a typical LA winter day—not hot, but sunny enough to require sunglasses to counter the glare. Cho Rhee stopped her black BMW M5 in front of a heavy steel gate. Her mirror Ray Bans served another function: with them on, the guards could not see her scanning the premises. The window motor whirred softly after she pushed the button to run the driver-side window down.
A swarthy Hispanic guard, who looked as though he ate far too many tacos, waddled over. Cho could see a second man behind him, cradling an M-16 and trying, but not succeeding, to stay out of sight behind one of the pillars that flanked the gate.
“My name is Cho Rhee. I’m here to see Luis Padilla. He is expecting me.”
The man grunted and had a discussion in rapid Spanish into a handheld radio. “Boss, it’s not a he, it’s a she.” At the end of the conversation, he pointed up the driveway. “House is up there.”
Cho raised the window and released the clutch. She took her time driving the quarter mile to the top of the hill where another armed guard pointed to a spot, and Cho parked the BMW. As she got out, Cho admired the view of the San Gabriel Mountains and studied the security arrangements, knowing the guards could not see the movement of her eyes behind her darkly tinted glasses.
This guard was short, stocky and had thick hair that glistened. She wondered if the slickness came from pomade and sniffed delicately. Yes, it did. He put his arms out, indicating that he intended to search her. Cho opened her black blazer wide to show a harness with a pair of magazine pouches and a shoulder holster filled with a Walther PPK/S. As the guard took in her weaponry and her breasts, she spotted two more armed men in the shade of the portico. The guard spread a small towel on the hood of her BMW and pointed to her Walther PPK/S. Cho dropped the magazine out of the pistol and racked the slide to eject the round from the firing chamber. The German made semi-automatic pistol, the recently ejected magazine and single round, along with the two spare magazines in the shoulder holster, she placed in a neat row on the towel. Smiling, Cho put two more seven round magazines taken from the pocket of her blue blazer next to the others. She hoped they would stay untouched until she returned. Without a word, the guard—reeking of garlic—patted her down. He squeezed her breasts, then he slid his hand down and fondled her vagina. Behind her Ray Bans, Cho’s eyes glinted like steel.
Next, the guard pointed to her black eel-skin briefcase. This she also placed gently on the hood. Cho popped the latches and stepped away so the guard could see its contents: a single three-by five-inch card and a brick-shaped object wrapped in black plastic.
“She’s clean,” the man yelled in Spanish and gestured her toward the door.
Cho pressed the latches shut on her briefcase. Her first step was toward the guard who’d searched her. In rapid Spanish, she whispered in his ear, “Feel me up like that again and I’ll kill you so fast you’ll be dead before you hit the ground.”
As Cho strode to the house, the man muttered, “Asian bitch” under his breath. He admired her small, tight ass, well defined by her black pantsuit, and wondered what she would be like in bed.
What the guard didn’t see was Cho’s smile. Like most men who searched her, he’d found the pistol and been more interested in feeling her up than thoroughly searching her. What he hadn’t found was the eighteen-inch wakizashi in a scabbard attached to the back of her bra. The hilt of the traditional Japanese short sword nestled between her shoulder blades, just below the base of her neck. Its scabbard provided another benefit; it forced her to sit up straight. The short sword was ideal for hand-to-hand combat. It was longer than a knife, and a skilled user like Cho could filet a man’s chest in two strokes.
Cho stepped onto the veranda, with its redwood beams and two large ceiling fans. Slate gray flagstones were set into the concrete, and she saw that extra care had been taken to smooth the cement so that it was flush with the edges of the stone: the work of a skilled craftsman. As she approached, Luis Padilla stood up. Padilla was a slightly built man, five-foot-eight, with piercing black eyes that presented an almost Asian slant.
“I was not expecting a woman, let alone such a beautiful one.”
Cho wasn’t sure if he meant he didn’t like dealing with women or was just trying to be gallant. “My first name loosely translates as ‘beautiful’ in Korean, but most Americans don’t know one Korean name from another.”
Padilla nodded a “thank-you-for-not-embarrassing-me” acknowledgement and pointed to the only other chair at the glass-topped table. A servant came out of the house, and Cho paused to allow him to pull out the chair. She brushed long strands of black hair off her face as she sat down.
“Water with lemon or lime. Thank you.”
“Would you like something stronger, like a glass of wine?”
Cho shook her head. “Thank you, but no. I am driving.” If this doesn’t go as planned, I don’t want my brain affected by alcohol. I don’t believe you’ll try to drug me, but you never know. Also, I have a legal concealed carry permit. If I was stopped for a routine traffic stop and the police smelled alcohol on my breath, good-bye permit!
“Yes, it is a long way back to…?”
“Los Angeles.” Cho wasn’t about to tell him she lived in Laguna Beach.
“Ah yes, LA.” Padilla didn’t pursue the question; if she had wanted him to know what suburb, she would have told him. He’d thought about having whoever arrived for the meeting followed home, but had decided against it. Now he realized it was probably the right decision. His gut instinct that had kept him alive for a quarter century in a dangerous business said, Do not mess with this woman.
The servant withdrew, after putting a small tray holding a glass of water and wedges of lime and lemon next to Cho.
“You are a long way from the barrio, no?” Cho’s accent gave a lilt to her voice that men found sexy. In Hong Kong, the Queen’s English was taught starting in what Americans call kindergarten. At the University of Southern California, Cho had learned American slang and Spanish to go with the Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and English she spoke with ease.
Padilla wasn’t sure what Cho meant, but assumed she was suggesting that his house in the mountains kept him a long way from the DEA and the LAPD. “Yes, it allows me to stay away from trouble.”
Cho Rhee leaned forward. “Let’s get down to business. We are the only ones who make Asian Pure and can deliver a metric ton every month. The question is, can your organization handle it?”
A metric ton of heroin consists of one thousand one-kilogram (2.02 lbs.) bricks, or about twenty-two hundred pounds. Padilla leaned back and waved his hand dismissively. “No one can deliver that much every month.”
Cho brushed more hair from her face as the breeze picked up. “We can. In fact, if you can sell it, we can deliver a ton every two weeks. We control the process from the opium fields in Southeast Asia until we deliver the finished product to you. Asian Pure is the best there is and is already sought after on the streets. Your distributors should know; their customers are asking for it.”
“And I am sure you brought me a sample.”
“I have a kilo with me, which—if we agree to do business—you can keep as a gesture of good will.” She put the briefcase on the table, opened it, and rotated it so Luis could see the contents.
Cho, if we can’t make a deal, and if you piss me off, I can call the cops, who will arrest you with a kilo of heroin.
Luis snapped his fingers. A chemist, who was waiting just inside the French doors leading into the house, stepped forward and took a sample from the brick and left. “Assuming you can deliver, what are the commercial arrangements?”
“You agree to buy at least five hundred kilos each month to start. When you place each order, we give you the delivery date and you deposit half the price in an offshore account. When you take possession of the drugs, you deposit the other half. This way, we have half in case you fail to make the second payment. If we fail to deliver, you have paid only half. This way we share the risk equally.”
“Why are you talking to me?”
“The other organizations in southern California can’t handle the volume and don’t—” Rhee hesitated. “—like our terms. Whereas your associates in Mexico agreed that they were acceptable.” Rhee had evaluated each cartel’s local drug organization before determining that the Sinaloa Cartel had the best distribution and smuggling network. Other organizations would have trouble distributing a half a ton a month.
For his part, Padilla knew that the Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel didn’t like dealing with Koreans. Now, he’d recently learned, many of their top people in LA were dead, and their distribution networks were disrupted. Even the cartel’s sources in the LAPD didn’t know who had done the killing.
“And you are sure we can?”
Rhee nodded. “That is what I have been told.”
“What does your organization get out of this?”
“A steady customer who takes all the volume we can produce. It makes security simpler. In a year, we discuss changing the buy to a thousand kilos. You will have an exclusive deal—except for the Chinese and Korean gangs, of course. We will continue to supply them directly.”
“Miss Rhee, what do you get out of it?”
“Money. Just like you.” Cho Rhee’s tone was matter of fact.
“Tell me about the logistics?”
“We bring it to North America by freighter. The ship slows to three to five knots off the Mexican coast—outside the twelve-mile limit—between one and three a.m., and the heroin is transferred to your boat. We know our delivery method works. We own the freighters and pay the crews extra to keep quiet.”
“And you are the only source of Asian Pure?”
“Okay. How much per kilo?”
Cho waited to answer. The chemist had just finished with his test and returned. He spoke in soft Spanish to Luis, who nodded, clasped his hands and rested them on the table. “My chemist says this is the purest heroin he has ever seen. It is almost 99.5% pure. Like the old Ivory soap advertisements.”
Cho smiled at his reference to the soap maker’s old claim—99 and 44/100ths percent pure! “One hundred and fifty thousand dollars a kilo,” she finally answered.
“That is ridiculous.”
“Not when you consider you can cut it as many times as you want and it will still be better than anything you currently sell on the street.”
“One forty.” Cho took a sip of the water. She believed negotiating with men was very predictable when they wanted something badly. It was like dating a man who wanted to get her into bed. She would win this game. Cho had told her uncle that Padilla would settle at over $100,000 per kilo, or about 50 million dollars per 500-kilo shipment.
“One hundred thousand, Padilla countered.”
“One hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars,” Cho countered back.
“One-fifteen. We’re giving you a quantity discount at this price.”
Padilla took a sip of his iced tea and smiled. “One-ten and no more.”
“Done.” Her agreement with Half Moon let Cho keep anything over ninety thousand as her commission. Now, each five hundred kilo shipment would add ten million dollars to her personal offshore bank accounts.
“When will the first shipment arrive?”
“Now that we have a deal and your order, I’ll let you know the exact date as soon as I get it.”
She took the three-by-five-inch card from her briefcase and slid it across the table. On it she had written the rendezvous latitude and longitude, along with her firm’s offshore bank name and account number, a phone number in Macao, and a code word to identify Padilla’s organization. “This will be the location of the first drop of five hundred kilos. If you are late or have a security problem, the ship will not wait around to let that become our problem too. The heroin is dumped over the side. We lose the heroin and you are out your deposit of twenty-seven point five million. Call the phone number to place each additional order.”
Padilla nodded. These people must have tons of Asian Pure if they’d rather dump it than deliver it late. Any captain of ours who doesn’t make the rendezvous on time won’t get a chance to miss a second one. “I gather I should have someone call from outside the U.S?”
“Perfect.” Rhee sounded like a Valley Girl when she spoke the word as if it started with “Purrrrr.”
Padilla snapped his fingers on the corner of the card, thinking the street value of the first shipment would be well in excess of a hundred million dollars. Even with losses and expenses, that would put a cool forty-five million or more in his and the cartel’s pockets. It was a good afternoon.
Taken from Chapter 3 – THE PERILOUS ROAD TO RETIREMENT
Monday, February 13th, 1995, 1215 local time, Pyongyang
Vice Admiral Pak marveled at how fast the large white flakes accumulated on his woolen overcoat and made no attempt to brush them off. He enjoyed watching the snowflakes float down from the gray sky. It was negative 10 degrees Celsius (14o Fahrenheit), and there was barely a breeze. He was waiting for Major General Jang to emerge from the People’s Army’s headquarters. The building was another unmarked, flat gray structure, identical in style to all the others in the capital. When it had been rebuilt after the Korean War, Kim il-Sung had a chance to make it special. Instead, the architects had followed the Soviet style and the result created a boring sameness. But criticizing the blandness of the design of government buildings could result in an interview with the SSD.
The entrance was a quiet 50 meters from the street; there wasn’t much traffic in Pyongyang. Remembering his childhood, Pak would have liked to throw snowballs against the building, but in the paranoid world of North Korea, throwing snowballs at a government building would be interpreted as a gesture against the regime and could lead to arrest, torture and residency in a re-education camp.
Jang exited the building. His thick-soled boots clomped on the concrete and left footprints in the snow; his purposeful stride suggested he was in a hurry. The general’s dark brown Army winter uniform coat and red Korean People’s Army insignia contrasted with Pak’s dark Navy blue and gold.
Both their uniforms were custom made by tailors in Zhenxing, the city just across the Yalu River in the People’s Republic of China. They fit and looked better than those issued by the North Korean government. Each officer had two sets of uniforms. One, purchased locally, was to wear around the men they led; the Zhenxing set was worn when they met with their peers, who also wore custom-fitted uniforms made by the same tailors.
Jang was cheerful. “I commend you, Kim Sun. Our Dear Leader can’t wait to see the reports on the new commando training area. For thirty minutes, in our Army general staff meeting, he talked about how important the agreement with the Russians was, so you must have briefed him well.”
“Thank you, my friend.”
Jang asked the important question. “What did we end up paying the Russians?”
“The annual fee for the training area on the Russian coast along the Sea of Japan is two million rubles. The fee will be paid in small arms shipped to places of interest, so the Russians can deny they made them. Kim was happy we didn’t have to pay cash and dip into our currency reserves. The lease for Simushir costs us only a half million U.S. dollars. It is a bargain, considering how much more heroin we can produce on the island. The two Russians with whom we negotiated the Simushir deal got one hundred thousand dollars each from Half Moon, and another hundred thousand to use as gifts. For the length of the ten-year agreement, Half Moon will deposit three thousand U.S. dollars a month into each of their accounts in the Japanese Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, which has a branch in Vladivostok.”
“Excellent.” General Jang nodded his head, then pointed off to the right, toward an army officers’ mess where they planned to eat in a room set aside for senior officers. “When did you meet with our Dear Leader?”
“Yesterday. Our Dear Leader smiled when I told him we could ship the raw opium and chemicals into Broutana Bay without having any police officers to bribe.” Pak quickened his step. He was hungry, and while the snowfall was beautiful, the chill had penetrated his coat. “We talked about the island’s history. He was interested in how the Japanese used the Kuril Islands during the Russo-Japanese War and World War II.”
Jang’s internal alarms went off. “I hope he is not thinking of using Simushir as a military base.”
Vice Admiral Pak laughed. “The agreement we signed with the Russian Maritime Ministry gives us the right to a small security force on Simushir, without defining its composition or size. It gives our country a base on Russian territory. I told our Dear Leader we could use your Special Forces units for security.”
“You didn’t answer my question.” Jang turned to face his friend and they stopped walking.
“No one knows what’s on the mind of our Dear Leader. I didn’t spend much time on the potential military aspects of the island, other than to remind him that the Russians had a base on the island from 1987 to 1994 and then abandoned it because it was too hard to support. Our main discussion was about how much more money he would get from the heroin trade. I have to meet with the men in Room 39. They will tell me where the additional money will be deposited, in which offshore account, under what business name. Our Dear Leader is more of a capitalist than a socialist when it comes to money.”
Jang put his hand on Pak’s arm and spoke in grave tones. “My friend, we are playing a very dangerous game. Our drug business exists because we have made our Dear Leader and a dozen members of his inner circle very wealthy. But he could kill us and our families without thinking twice or feeling any remorse.”
Pak met his friend’s gaze. “It would be very difficult for our Dear Leader to replace us. We’re his largest supplier of illegal drugs. Through us, he makes several times more than all the other suppliers combined. He knows it, and we know it. What makes us special is that we have reliable supplies of opium and a distribution network that takes everything we produce. He has gotten addicted to our money machine. I keep telling our Dear Leader we are part of his grand plan to destroy America by making it dependent on his drugs.”
Major General Jang nodded thoughtfully.
Pak continued. “We have contacts that no one in his inner circle has. He doesn’t like it, but he is a realist. We put steps in place so if he kills us, he and his friends are frozen out of our network. Without us, our Dear Leader would have to start over. He won’t admit it, but he knows that if he removes us, it would take years to get back to where we are today. Getting rid of us would cost him a fortune, and he’s a greedy bastard. And right now he is very pleased with us. The Russian agreements give us a place to build a factory as big as we want, and gives our Dear Leader one thing he’s never had—training areas outside our country, away from the prying eyes of the Americans and their allies in Seoul. My friend, I am just as concerned as you are, but as long as we are careful and cater to our Dear Leader’s whims and greed, we should be safe.”
“Still, we must try to anticipate, so we can so we can retire when we want to.”
The Admiral bobbed his head vigorously. “On that, we are in agreement. The sad part is we cannot enjoy our wealth here.”
Jang changed the subject. “Come my friend; we have a lunch to eat and a captain to interview.”
Taken from Chapter 9 – NEAT NEW TOYS
Saturday, June 24th, 1995, 0635 local time, Broutana Bay
Major Kim loved the dawn view from the top of Mount Urataman which, at this time of year, began around 0330. By 0430, the sun was already above the horizon. From their observation post in a shelf-like flat area below the peak and about 600 meters above the bay, sunrises and sunsets were spectacular. In the clear, pollution-free blue sky, he could see the peak on Ostrov Ketoy, the island across the Diana Strait to the north. The ship that had left the bay at six in the morning looked like a small a toy trailing a light blue wake that contrasted with the blue-gray waters of the Western Pacific.
Kim turned to study another ship through his prized Nikon 10 x 50 binoculars that were better than even the rare East German ones he’d left behind in North Korea. A few hours earlier, the small freighter had been barely visible. Now he could clearly see a Burmese flag fluttering from its fantail. On the bow of its rusty black hull, the ship’s name, Orange Flower, was legible in a dirty white block script.
Major Kim watched it dock at the pier on the north side of the bay. One by one, six pallets of what looked like loaves of bread was hoisted out of the hold with the ship’s own crane and sent swinging over the side and down onto the pier. There, workers transferred the sling from the incoming pallet to one waiting for pick-up. A wave and the ship’s crane operator lifted the outgoing pallet off the pier and lowered it into Orange Flower’s hold. It was an efficient ballet, one which Kim enjoyed watching. More pallets were delivered than were loaded onto the ship. At last the empty crane hook swung away from the pier and the M.V. Orange Flower began to back away. Its diesel engine belched black smoke as the ship headed toward the caldera’s entrance and out to sea.
Kim hadn’t told anyone about his visit that night to the building that he now suspected was a drug lab. He had been taught in school that all opium usage had been eradicated from North Korea and only corrupt Chinese mainlanders and decadent Americans dealt in the stuff. Every day, Kim wrestled with what he should do. “Patience,” his father had once told him, “be patient and good things will come.”
As he watched another ship enter the harbor, Major Kim chatted with the four men manning the observation posts—one facing each direction—they’d built roughly 50 meters below the mountain’s peak. Camouflage netting covered the sandbags that rested on a sturdy wooden frame; a sheet of six-millimeter steel underlay the sandbags and further shielded the men from radiation from the radar antenna at the top of the mountain.
Like all the prepared North Korean positions around the ridge, it was connected to a small command center in a cave, manned 24 hours a day, and to the Half Moon office switchboard via redundant phone lines. The command center was now linked to Half Moon’s satellite dish on the top of Mount Urataman that gave them a telephone link to anywhere in the world.
His men had found the cave entrance one day while walking along the edge of the bay, about a kilometer directly west of the settlement. Major Kim thought it was in an ideal location; if the island was ever attacked, the settlement would be the primary target.
The top of Urataman was home to the British-made Racal Decca Marine Bridgemaster II radar purchased by the Kuril Island Development Corporation. Placing the antenna high up increased the radar’s ship detection range to almost 40 kilometers. Two scopes, one in the headquarters building and one in Kim’s command center, showed the southern half of Ketoy—the island across the Diany Straight—and northern Simushir.
The large freighter, the third ship he’d seen today, slowed as it glided toward the main pier. The field telephone rang.
“Sir, it is Managing Director Lee.” A young soldier held out the phone.
“Good morning, Chin Hae. You might want to come down and watch what is about to be unloaded. Meet me at the pier.” This was the first time Managing Director Lee had ever addressed Major Kim by his first name.
Major Kim drove his MULE down the rocky path to the settlement. By the time he got to the end of the pier, the M.V. Crescent Sun was tied up, and the hatches from her forward cargo hold were stacked on the bow.
Lee greeted him and, speaking in a low voice, as if he was afraid someone would overhear, said, “We have eighty-four minutes before the next American satellite pass, plenty of time to get one, maybe two of the vehicles off and parked under those large empty sheds.”
Kim was stunned to see a Russian-made 9K33M3 missile system emerge from the hold. The technical term for the six-wheeled amphibious vehicle is the acronym TELAR—transporter, erector, launcher and radar. The 9K33M3 was a self-contained surface to air missile system and each vehicle carried six radio-guided, command line-of-sight surface-to-air missiles and its own fire control radars, so it could operate independently. The Russians called it the Osa which means wasp.
Both men watched the first Osa settle on its wheels, and then Managing Director Lee summarized what he read from the manual. “The H band radar can detect a target out to about thirty kilometers, depending on target altitude. The missile range is about fifteen kilometers and can hit targets as high as twelve thousand meters. The operator directs the missile via a mono-pulse J-band radar, and a proximity fuse sets off the warhead. There is a smaller I-band radar that can control two missiles aimed at a single target. The Osa also has an optical tracking device. The reloads consist of ‘three packs’ because each contains three missiles. A trained crew should be able to replace both sides in fifteen minutes.”
“Managing Director Lee, why they are here?” Lee started to speak, but the diesel engine on the Osa coughed and spat out a plume of black smoke as it started. He waited until the vehicle drove off before answering.
“Chun Hae, I was hoping you could tell me why. Sixteen Osas, plus thirty-six reloads and spare parts, are coming here. Once they are here, I was told they are to be turned over to you. This shipment is the first of four of the latest export models. The remaining twelve will arrive later next month.”
Major Kim said nothing. He stared at the second Osa as it emerged from the hold.
Managing Director Lee, a native and resident of Hong Kong, looked and sounded worried. “Your country will, I am told, send trained crews here.”
Kim knew nothing about the Osas. “Ah, I have not yet received these orders,” he stammered.
“Also in this ship’s hold is a surplus Russian radar that NATO calls the Bar Lock. That I know about. My company bought it from the Syrians. The initial position will be on top of Urataman. Don’t worry, we will install additional shielding so it doesn’t affect your men or the Racal radar. Eventually, we will build a road up to the top of Prevo Peak and move it to a position where it does not affect the surface search radar. When we get it operating, it will tell us if anyone is flying around us out to about a hundred and sixty kilometers. Ultimately, it will be used in support of the airport.”
“That makes sense,” was all Major Kim could say. He didn’t know whether he should be excited or horrified. Here was a missile system better than what his country had to defend the homeland, bought for this island. It did not make sense. Sixteen Osas!
Reviewed By: Anara Guard, Manhattan Book Review
April 2021 | 4/5 Stars
Most of us know little to nothing about North Korea. In The Simushir Island Incident, the totalitarian leadership of that nation is intimately connected to a massive drug cartel, operating in an atmosphere of political ambition and desperate bids for survival. This book offers a sweeping action story set in the mid-nineties, featuring Josh Haman, an ambitious Navy officer who aims to reach the rank of Admiral before he retires. (Haman is also featured in several other novels by the same author.) His perilous path intersects with an immense North Korean heroin smuggling operation based from Simushir Island in the Sea of Okhotsk. To reach as many customers as possible, the smugglers make arrangements with Chinese and Mexican operations to distribute their “Asian pure”. But who can truly be trusted when dealing with thugs and thieves?
The two North Koreans who came up with the idea of using the island as their base have a brilliant plan in mind. By freeing themselves from the confines of their nation, they just might be able to safely defect. But only if they can continue to wield just the right amount of power—enough to carry out their scheme, and not so much that a jealous rival will wipe them out.
As I read, I kept picturing how this book could be an action movie starring Tom Cruise as Haman. And there is plenty of action here: assassins bearing swords and guns, missiles, submarines, helicopters, jets, North Korean defectors who may or may not be spies, drug deals gone wrong, torpedoes—along with episodes of political double-dealing as characters strive to improve their own circumstances or bring down their rivals. Like in many Hollywood films, some of the female characters are here primarily to spice up the proceedings with a bit of sex. However, the Navy wives and families are portrayed with sympathy and a more well-rounded approach, showing how they must endure the extended absences of their husbands and fathers.
To aid the reader, a few maps and photos are included, as well as a brief history of how North and South Korea came to be divided and another of the Soviet submarine base that once operated from the island. The drama unfolds through seventeen gripping chapters, with a healthy mixture of dialogue, newspaper accounts and other documents, and an abundance of action.
The author is clearly familiar with Navy operations and combat, along with understanding this particular slice of history. This fast-paced page-turner is sure to please readers who enjoy military action tales that contain loads of intrigue.
Review in the March-April 2021 issue of The Aviator