From Kerr, a short and searingly precise list on Amazon "policing crime under a dictatorship" led me to some great titles. These tend to have the same trope of man (always a man! Do no women have brains? In these novels, they end up as tragic figures or sidekicks. geez. ) who is tolerated, sometimes even celebrated by the regime, and who uses that position to solve crimes that might embarass or topple the govt.
Here I rediscovered Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko novels (Gorky Park through Three Stations), found Olen Steinhauer's series set in an unnamed Eastern European country that is obviously Romania, and almost completely obtuse, and fell madly in love with Colin Cotteril's Dr. Siri Paiboun series (which also introduced me to the Soho Crime press). (Note: Cotteril's website is one of the most interesting that I've seen produced by an author so far. It is obviously produced by him, and not by an intern at the publishing house. Worth checking out.) Here also I was introduced to enigmatic Inspector O, who operates almost incomprehensibly in North Korea. The author, James Church, apparently was a CIA officer in North Korea at some point, and so presumably knows what he is talking about. I did hear him interviewed on NPR after the death of Kim Jong-Il, and he was about as inscrutable as these stories. Check out that link to his Macmillan author page, and you'll see what I mean. Possibly the shortest wikipedia entry ever. Yet, even though you really have no idea what is going on, Church manages to make the country that we see as black on those night maps of the world, appear beautiful, and in its own weird way worth solving crimes for.
Since I first read this list, I see that Steinhauer has been dropped, and someone named Tom Rob Smith has been added, with a book called Child 44. Stalin is the dictator of choice here, I'll have to check it out.