“Gu-wol is a female servant of Kim Tae-gil from Yeoju ¼ Before long, when Kim came to Seoul, Gu-wol waited at a narrow street with other servants. They captured Kim and Gu-wol stabbed Kim by herself.” This plot comes straight out of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, dating back to February 27, 1650. The crime novel Gu-wol’s Murder(2018) by Kim Byeol-ah engrosses the readers’ mind with its dramatization of historical facts. Eight lines out of the pages of history were all it took for Kim to repackage the plain array of facts and craft them into the wittily knitted novel.
▲ Gu-wol's Murder. Provided by Ridibooks
The tone of the story is set with a scene of two men pleading with the Minister of Justice to re-examine their father’s murder case. The two men’s father is Kim Tae-gil, who appears in the records of the Joseon Dynasty. Such dramatic unfolding of the plot is devised by the mind of none other than the creator of the novel. She developed the story by adding a few characters and plots into a short mentioning of a female servant murdering her master. Although the field of fiction was not strange to her – as could be seen through her previous works of Misil(2005), Nongae(2007), Baekbeom(2008) – her first crime novel Gu-wol’s Murder was a new endeavor for her.
Ironically, unlike the typical flow of crime novels, the plot of Kim’s novel does not revolve around expiscating who the murderer is. In fact, the criminal is already revealed from the title, Gu-wol. Kim tried to demonstrate the relationships between many different plots through her imagination, so that the readers can concentrate more on the whole process of events. Unlike other detective stories in which readers struggle to figure out the perpetrators near the end, this book focuses more on the process and the background.
The crossed perspectives of the characters are also quite noticeable in the novel. For example, the first chapter, Dead Men’s Tales, closely depicts the situation of the coroner Jeon Bang Yu inspecting the dead bodies of the crime scenes. However, the second chapter, Stamp of the Sea, is narrated by Yoon, who runs into Gu-wol and discovers Gu-wol’s goal which was to assassinate her former master Kim Tae-gil. The regular intersection of views through the entire book helps readers better understand the overall circumstances and maintain the tension.
Archaic Korean language also helps the novel acquire the acclaim that it received for the uniqueness of its narration. Commonly, blood-red murders and torturing sequences arouse suspense among readers. Therefore, for those who do not prefer reading bloody stories, crime novels may not be the best choice. However, the usage of elegant language in the novel is enough to turn the heads of even those who are unamused by the idea of yet another crime story. Although the book may not be an easy read due to its old style of narration, its language can conversely function as a ray of candlelight; it not only guides the readers to get through the plot of the novel but also sheds light on the clever masterpiece that Kim created.
It seems that the author tried to touch on the similar phenomenon of Gapjil culture nowadays. “In the first place, slaves were not treated as human beings, but counted by the number of mouths just like livestock.” This sentence describing the birth of Yoon Seondal, who was born between a female servant and her master, reveals the class discrimination during the Joseon Dynasty. The ruling class’s tyranny towards lower classes is well shown in the story by the scene of the master assaulting slaves while the slaves are not defying them.
Out of all these noticeable features, the book’s title only adds to its strength. The word murder acts as blog fodder that arouses the customers’ curiosity. In some quarters, it can be read as a very point-blank word, which can give the impression that the novel’s content may deal with a topic related to death-related materials. However, subsequently the customers would think, “So, what about it?” which would lead them to open up the cover. Through this captivating mechanism, one is going to face a bloody-red revenge story and get a chance to think about the ideal society in which all humans are treated equal.