You-Jeong Jeong is one of a range of Korean crime writers finally getting translated into English. Her book Seven Years of Darkness was released in Korea in 2011, and was named one of the best crime novels released in Germany in 2015. Seven Years of Darkness is You-Jeong’s second novel, her most recent, The Good Son, was translated and release last year. But where The Good Son was a forensic look at a deeply troubled single character, Seven Years of Darkness delves into the lives of a number of characters, many of them troubled and all impacted by tragedy.
The book opens seven years after the tragedy that set all of the events in motion. Choi Sowon, the son of a man on death row, is living with Mr Ahn, an old colleague of his father in a small out of the way village. Sowon has ended up here after being hounded out of every school he has tried to attend, tarred by the crimes of his father. When Ahn disappears, Sowon finds a copy of a novel that he has written which tries to untangle and explain the events of seven years before at a place called Seryong Lake,a large dam in the countryside a few hours drive from Seoul. Events that led to the death of a young girl and later, the flooding of a village. It is only by understanding and coming to terms with events that occurred when he was only eleven, can Sowon deal with the ongoing threat to him and his protector.
Sowon is not the protagonist of the historical tale that takes up the bulk of the book. And even Ahn, the author who has put the story together is more of a bit player. The real story is that of Sowon’s father Choi Hyonsu and the father of the girl who dies Oh Yongje. Neither are particularly likeable. Hyonsu, unable to get past his failure to become a star baseballer following an injury has become an alcoholic. And Oh is a violent, vengeful man who has driven his wife away due to violence and intimidation. The death of eleven year old Seryong (same name as the lake) brings them into conflict, although only Oh knows that there is a game being played.
Seven Years of Darkness is an effective psychological thriller. There is question as to who did what and how, the tension plays out through Oh Yongje’s mind games and Hyonsu’s deterioration. This all ends in a thrilling confrontation which itself becomes the jumping off point for further pathos and action when the narrative returns to the present. Given the quality of the two that we have seen so far, it can only be a matter of time before You-Jeong’s other novels are translated for English readers.