I can’t review NIGHTMARE RANGE. It’s already been done better than I ever could. The book’s introduction does that for you, so I’m outta here.
Reviewed by Joe Ha…
Oh, you’re still here? Okay. Let me explain a bit further. NIGHTMARE RANGE collects the George Sueno and Ernie Bascom stories by Martin Limon. A Mexican-American who spent 10 years in the Army in Korea, Limon has much in common with Sueno, his fictitious creation and counterpart. Sueno has been featured in several excellent novels, but there was some question in my mind as to how a collection of short stories, culled from the indispensible Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (as well as one from the wonderful publication Pulphouse), would hold up. The answer? Extremely well. Author Timothy Hallinan’s introduction to the volume is simply perfect, and there’s no reason to read my musings about it when you can check out these opening pages for yourself. But let me nudge you toward that purchase.
"NIGHTMARE RANGE is a terrific collection. It works well whether one samples from it intermittently or reads several stories at one sitting."
Sueno and Bascom are sergeant-detectives in the U.S. Army. Stationed in South Korea during the 1970s, they are tasked with solving crimes that range from “misappropriation of Army assets” for personal use and black market sales to murder. Sueno, who narrates the stories, is the grounded tether to which the wind-buffeted balloon named Bascom is attached. Yes, Bascom is a bit short-fused, more likely to get into fights when the duo’s investigations lead them into conflict with their counterparts or, on occasion, with their own top brass, whose primary interest is that their posteriors are covered from top to bottom. The more centered Sueno often acts as a buffer between Bascom and the world they are in, though Bascom's toughness serves its purpose, and then some, in the stories.
That notwithstanding, it might seem to the uninitiated that Limon would quickly run out of story material. It’s a fair question; after all, how many missing stereos or murdered prostitutes can be the basis for a story before it becomes pat? Therein lies one of Limon’s strengths. While he does revisit certain themes over the course of the 17 tales included in this generous anthology, each and all of them have a different and memorable twist, something to recommend them for reading.
The title story, “Nightmare Range,” which concerns the murder of a prostitute but turns into something more, lets the reader know immediately that this is not a collection of happy ending tales with everything sewn up neatly. Whether the victim is a nominal innocent (“The Woman From Hamhung”) or someone who seems, at least to some extent, deserving of their fate (“The Opposite of O”), there is a quiet air of tragedy that permeates Sueno’s world-weary narration. This is true whether, as in “The Cold Yellow Sea,” the murder is a calculated act, or a bit of passion is involved as well, as occurs in “The Black Market Detail.” However, there is nothing more than out-and-out tragedy in “A Piece of Rice Cake,” where a crime borne perhaps out of necessity as opposed to greed snowballs in an unanticipated manner. It is my favorite story in the book, and arguably the saddest.
NIGHTMARE RANGE is a terrific collection. It works well whether one samples from it intermittently or reads several stories at one sitting. These tales are part war story and part historical mystery, but all good from beginning to end. If you are unfamiliar with Limon’s work, this is an excellent introduction to an author whose books you should be reading.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 17, 2013