Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Fear Artist (Poke Rafferty #5) by Timothy Hallinan – Book Review

Question: When does a book reviewer who loves reading, thinking about, and writing about books turn into a rabid, uncompromising, blathering fan? Answer: When he goes online and buys all the preceding volumes in a series in hardback from a used book seller? Well, actually, there could be a more insane and impulsive step. I could have gone to ABE (the web site of the American Booksellers Association) and bought them all in mint, first edition in order to send them to Tim for autographing, but I'm not quite that crazy...yet. The Fear Artist (Poke Rafferty #5) by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime, 2012, 342 Pages, $14.95/8.97) is far darker and more explicitly violent than any other Hallinan book I've read before. It continues to provide insights into Poke's history and background, while never going so deep that the reader feels left out by not having read the earlier material. Nevertheless, I've been motivated to reach back to the beginning to explore Poke's life in all its richness. The last times I did that were for Robert Parker's “Spenser” series and for Patrick O'Brien's marvelous naval novels featuring twenty volumes following James Aubrey through his 18th century career. Incidentally, Hallinan's characters are much more nuanced and subtle than Parker ever managed with Spenser.

The Fear Artist finds travel writer Poke Rafferty alone in his Bangkok apartment painting it for his wife Rose and adopted daughter Miaow, who are visiting relatives in the north. Leaving the paint store, he runs into a man on the street just as a shot brings the man down. In his dying breath he gurgles out a name and a place while handing Poke a laundry ticket. Almost immediately, Poke is arrested and taken to police headquarters where he's roughly interrogated before being released. Thus begins a journey into the dark and tortured past of the war in Vietnam, Operation Phoenix, and the dark, violent life of the shadowy operator, Haskell Murphy, whose rage and twisted skill set provide the title and much of the action for this fine thriller. Bankok, throughout this tale, is drowning in a continuous tropical deluge spreading wetness and actual as well as metaphorical mold over all. In much the same way we turned our backs on Vietnam, some readers may prefer to avoid the skilled torture and violence Murphy can inflict, but they're necessary to fully understand the fear he inspires. Meanwhile, Poke continues to emerge as a complex and intriguing character worth spending time with.

Timothy Hallinan

Edgar, Shamus, Macavity and Lefty nominee Timothy Hallinan has written sixteen published novels, all thrillers and mysteries, all critically praised. He currently writes two series, one set in Los Angeles and the other in Bangkok.

His Junior Bender mysteries trace the adventures of a burglar who moonlights as a private eye for crooks. In its first eighteen months, the series has been nominated for both the Lefty and the Shamus for best mystery. The titles to date are "Crashed," "Little Elvises," "The Fame Thief," and "Herbie's Game."  In 2007, the first of his Edgar-nominated Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers, "A Nail Through the Heart", was published. "Nail" was named one of the top mysteries of the year by The Japan Times. Rafferty's Bangkok adventures have continued with "The Fourth Watcher," "Breathing Water," "The Queen of Patpong," "The Fear Artist," and "For the Dead." "Queen" was a Best Novel Edgar nominee in 2011. Coming in 2015 is "The Hot Countries."

In the 1990s he wrote six mysteries featuring the erudite private eye Simeon Grist, beginning with "The Four Last Things," which made several Ten Best lists, including that of The Drood Review. The other books in the series were well reviewed, and several of them were optioned for motion pictures. The series is now regarded as a cult favorite.

Hallinan has written full-time since 2006. Since 1982 he has divided his time between Los Angeles and Southeast Asia, the setting for his Poke Rafferty novels. (from Hallinan's author page on Amazon)

The Fear Artist (Poke Rafferty #5) (Soho Crime, 2012, 342 Pages, $14.95/8.97) is a thoroughly satisfying addition to my experience reading Timothy Hallinan. Either because I'm obsessive/compulsive or thorough (you choose) I've decided to go back to the saga's beginning. While this is certainly not necessary, it suits my approach to reading certain writers. We'll probably stash them in the trailer, where I'll read them serially as palette cleansers from other reading. Since these books can easily be read in couple of days, but beware.... First, the books will grab you hard and demand your attention. Second, they generate so much drive and tension that, at least for me, they require periods of putting them down for at least a few hours to cool off and let go a little before I can bear to return to them. I downloaded The Fear Artist (Soho Crime, 2012, 342 Pages, $14.95/8.97) to my Kindle app from the Keene Public Library. I gather that books borrowed from the library in this fashion will automatically disappear from the device after fifteen days. Interested to see.....