An ambitious, densely complex debut uses thriller formula to express the intricate relationships among Koreans, Japanese, and a skeptical West that will never understand them. Who’s murdering the Korean managers of Japanese pachinko parlors? Because Koreans are treated as second-class citizens in Japan, police inspector Tetsuo Mori couldn—t care less. But he becomes concerned when he begins to follow the enormous cash flow these cramped, noisy arcades of pinball-like gambling machines generate. Some of this cash goes abroad, to Helim Kim, a young, beautiful, westernized Korean living in Los Angeles. From there, she flits about the globe as a translator and dreams of getting pachinko companies listed on the Japanese stock exchange, a move that would thrust into the open the shady money- laundering practices that benefit Korean yakuza gangsters as well as numerous corrupt Japanese politicians. Born in Japan, Helim is the only child of a Korean woman and American solider. After both disappeared mysteriously, she was raised by her maternal grandmother, a Korean shaman and former comfort woman for the Japanese army. Now, Helim is the heir to her grandmother’s vast empire of pachinko halls, whose profits she wants to use to finance a Korean version of the National Organization of Women. Alas, a skim on the pachinko halls is already paying for a coup that will decide North Korea’s future. A pack of Korean, Japanese, American, and European schemers, including Helim’s estranged grandparents and a droll German assassin named Steig, are lining up as mutual antagonists. But pity Helim’s current lover, the divorced American lawyer Steve Juric, who’s fallen in love with Helim and whose yearnings for domestic bliss will become complicated if a sample of plutonium, smuggled out of North Korea, reveals that the struggling Communist nation is ready to use nuclear weapons to conquer its southern half. Keen details about Korean cultural history buried in plotting so heavy, and characters so thinly drawn, that suspense never builds.