Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fools' River by Timothy Hallinan - Book Review





Fools’ River (A Poke Rafferty Novel) by Timothy Hallinan (Soho/Penguin, 2017, 368 pages, $26.95/14.99) is the eighth volume featuring expatriate Bangkok travel writer Poke Rafferty as he struggles to secure the world he has constructed around himself since settling into an environment he arrived to describe and stayed to reform, one life at a time. Rafferty, author of a series of travel books called Looking for Trouble which Hallinan describes as "about the things most guidebooks ignore: poor neighborhoods, the best street food stalls, the temples, towns, restaurants, and bars that haven't gone all farang and sacrificed their identities to appeal to foreign customers. Also tells you which highly touted tourist traps to avoid, and little skills -- how much to bribe a cop and for what, how to negotiate with a taxi driver, avoiding common scams, idiosyncratic laws, etc. They're sort of anti-tourist guides." Rafferty is well-acquainted with the world he inhabits, but never, when he arrived, anticipated finding love there himself nor seeking to build a family and a life in that world. Hallinan has created a full-bodied world which constantly seeks to invade and destroy the comfortable nest he provides for his wife Rose and their adopted daughter Miaow, each a product of child sexual exploitation and rampant sex industry that thrives in Thailand.

Fools’ River opens as a benumbed unnamed character awakens in a hospital-like setting attached to tubes and maintained in a drug induced state of confusion. It then jumps quickly to a vignette where Poke Rafferty’s daughter Miaow is helping Lutanh, her friend from acting class, purchase a pair of violet contact lenses, accompanied by Miaow’s friend Edward, whom Lutanh worships from afar. Edward’s father appears to be missing, which is why Edward wishes to meet with Poke. Meanwhile, Rose is pregnant and anxious. Rose, who Poke met when she was a bar girl/prostitute working in Bangkok’s thriving sex industry is four months into a difficult pregnancy, especially since she's had two miscarriages. She’s afraid to lose the child, and Poke fears losing her. Miaow, rescued as a child whose parents abandoned her to the streets when she was quite small, has recently triumphed as an actor in her school and is preparing to try out for a part in Pygmalion.

The chapter in which Hallinan fills in the story of Lutanh, from birth in a rural Thai village to through developing self-awareness to life as a bar-girl Katoey, a lady-boy in a seedy Patpong bar, provides one of the most vivid encapsulations of child exploitation and sex business in Thailand Hallinan has ever written. In one chapter he captures Lutanh’s story. Moving forward and backward through time and Lutanh’s own self-awareness, it sets one of the two central plot and character elements which will dominate this volume in Hallinan’s fine Poke Rafferty series.

It doesn’t matter, much, where the reader first encounters Poke Rafferty. Hallinan’s skill as a writer provides sufficient information and background about the characters and setting to make each novel an effective standalone. However, the increasingly complex world, viewpoint, and background of Poke, the character, and Hallinan, the writer, become most apparent not only from reading all volumes of this series, but from indulging in the currently running Junior Bender series, and the, sadly, ended and now, for at least one volume, revived Simeon Grist series from the late 1990’s. Believe me, reading the back stories won’t be a chore!

An episode in which Poke visits the apartment of Fran Dependahl, the wife of a victim in the plot to steal from sex addicts, provides a view of one of Hallinan’s many narrative strengths. He allows the story to emerge by providing quirky, idiosyncratic characters to add content and depth to the story. Their discussion of her library, their mutual love of books and her relationship with her husband is both funny and deep. Hallinan never seems to be in a hurry, suggesting that he respects his reader sufficiently to allow immersion in the story and sufficient imagination to collude with the narrative and the creator of the work in making sure the story is well-told. While many thriller writers have stripped their stories to bare bones action, Hallinan luxuriates in allowing character, plot and setting to reveal themselves. The story comes together with action packed sequences that are part of Hallinan's particular appeal. There's a cinematic accuracy which closely follows a variety of perspectives, as if different camera angles were required to present the entire story in adequate depth.

Timothy Hallinan


Timothy Hallinan is an Edgar, Shamus, Macavity and Lefty nominee who has written twenty-one published novels, all thrillers and mysteries, all critically praised. He currently writes two series, the Junior Bender series set in Los Angeles and Poke Rafferty in Bangkok, and in 2017 he also revived his earlier series, written in the 1990s about the over-educated slacker private eye Simeon Grist. The new book, the first since 1995, is "Pulped." Hallinan had a varied writing career in publicity and the film industry before becoming a full time writer. You can discover more about him and his other writings on his web site.

Fools’ River (A Poke Rafferty Novel) by Timothy Hallinan (Soho/Penguin, 2017, 368 pages, $26.95/14.99) allows the author to continue the important themes that dominate his novels. Poke is consumed with trying to maintain family, friendship, and loyalty within an environment filled with official corruption and rampant sexual exploitation in the context of Thailand, where Hallinan himself maintains a second home and Poke functions as an alien divorced from his homeland and culture. Hallinan presents a completely believable world in which the main character strives to set things right. The novels are enriched by quirky, often funny, and always interesting characters fleshed out with affection and compassion by the author’s command of language. His friends and antagonists on the police force, at the Expat Bar, and in each story have back-stories contributing to the total effect of his novels in ways seldom achieved by lesser writers. I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher in both hard copy and electronic versions. I read it on my Kindle app. Fools River has my highest recommendation. 

Please remember, if you decide to order this book, that the links lead to Amazon.com and are linked to my account, providing me with a small commission which contributes to funding this blog and our travels. Thanks.