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 and are linked to my account, providing me with a small commission which contributes to funding this blog and our travels. Thanks. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Act of Betrayal by Mathew Dunn - Book Review

Act of Betrayal: A Will Cochrane Novel by Matthew Dunn (William Morrow, 2017, 320 Pages, $18.35/12.99) is a spy thriller from the macho, uber male, perspective of super-spy Will Cochrane, who, for reasons I can't understand, has reached the seventh volume of an apparently popular series. After reading the first few chapters of this book, I decided it wasn't for me. I don't generally read thrillers heavy on the U.S. spy system, special forces, or other gung-ho, macho adventures featuring shooters, shooting, and graphic violence. Nevertheless, I asked myself, why don't you consider continuing to read, mostly in order to affirm your preconceived ideas about this kind of novel. Surprise! While still not finished and having reached the "desire to see how this all works out" stage, I started to became really engaged by the ambivalence and complexity of this novel, so that around 25%, the beginning of Chapter 11, into the book, I decided to stay to the end. However, by the time I finished, I was sorry to have given so much time and credability to a world view I abhor.

Act of Betrayal is filled with action, lots of heroics, and, particularly lots of spy, CIA, and FBI talk. Also, featuring unlikely heroics, and an increasingly awkward convoluted plot that becomes too garbled with characters and too violent to approach plausibility, the novel begins to drag. Never having read a novel focused on this particular audience before, I wished better to understand the appeal beyond the action. It seems to engage the orientation towards conspiracy, admiration for doomed assassins working for “truth” and willing to use huge amounts of violence to achieve it. Also, the character of Will Cochrane stands beyond any sort of verisimilitude. Alliances extend to men (and women) of achievement beyond reasonable alliances, as a secret power within the CIA, a former Israeli agent, and a Russian, combine their efforts to stop the villain(s). The evil encountered rises all the way to the oval office.

The story opens as Will Cochrane, the finest shot of any assassin in the world, undertakes, successfully, to shoot at 3000 yards,a mysterious, but certainly evil, uber spy traveling along the autobahn at high speed. Of course, his head shot obliterates with one shot the man identified to him, and then he disappears. Three years later he appears to have committed suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge after having murdered a number of “innocent” people. The top agents of both the FBI and the CIA have long since stopped seeking him, until certain familiar habits begin to re-assert themselves, and it becomes obvious that Cochrane is, indeed, alive and back at work. There follow 300 pages of twists and turns as Cochrane seeks to set matters right with little concern for his own life, committed to exposing the “truth.”

In the world of Act of Betrayal the ends always justify the means, even when they include the violent death of ill doers without anything approaching due process. The hero, no... protagonist, is the purest of the pure. Comments about him by others point to his always doing “what's right.” Will Cochrane is beyond competent, a deadly killer with a perfect body, super reflexes, and completely under his own control. He never hesitates to instantly obliterate every person he concludes is guilty. His actions are justified because they are “right.” Legality has little or nothing to do with his choices, because his own motives are “pure.” He's accountable to no one but himself.

Matthew Dunn

The following profile of Matthew Dunn is provided by the publisher: “As an MI6 field officer, Matthew Dunn recruited and ran agents, coordinated and participated in special operations, and acted in deep-cover roles throughout the world. He operated in highly hostile environments, where, if compromised and captured, he would have been executed. Dunn was trained in all aspects of intelligence collection, deep-cover deployments, small-arms, explosives, military unarmed combat, surveillance, and infiltration. Medals are never awarded to modern MI6 officers, but Dunn was the recipient of a very rare personal commendation from the secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs for work he did on one mission, which was deemed so significant that it directly influenced the successful conclusion of a major international incident. During his time in MI6, Dunn conducted approximately seventy missions. All of them were successful. He lives in England.” Wikipedia, however, places this description into doubt by preceding it with,  “according to his publicity agents,” casting the entire bio into question.

Act of Betrayal: A Will Cochrane Novel by Matthew Dunn (William Morrow, 2017, 320 Pages, $18.35/12.99) portrays a perfectly corrupt government salvaged only by a few hidden “true” rebels who, deeply embedded in various agencies, manage to save us from our own self-destruction. In this fictional world, there are a few “good” men and women with incomparable skills willing to endure the privation and suffering necessary to save the rest of us from the worst of us. I cannot recommend this novel to any reader save those already addicted to such tripe. I read the book in digital format supplied to me by the publisher through Edelweiss on my Kindle app

Please remember that book purchases made by clicking links in my reviews are credited to me, paying me a small commission that helps keep this blog and our travels going. The Amazon portal on the upper left also is linked to my account for any other Amazon purchase. Thanks for your support.