Friday, June 27, 2008

Makes a hard man humble

Poke Rafferty is probably the first mystery hero is also a travel writer. Following A Nail Through the Heart, Timothy Hallinan's the Fourth Watcher continues the adventures of the Bangkok based Asian-American. Poke who has succeeded in building a family finds himself in trouble with the Secret Service and unknown forces of the Bangkok underworld. Lucky for him, as part of research for a book he has been getting training from a former CIA operative in how to navigate the dark and secret corners of the town.

As you might imagine, things are more complicated that is immediately apparent. Turns out that multiple people are watching Rafferty and some have ties to people from nastier places than Bangkok. And some of them are after Rafferty for reasons about which he is unaware. The situation escalates and Rafferty ends up in a cat and mouse game with some unpleasant characters.

The obvious comparison of this series is to the Bangkok novels of John Burdett. While both are set in Bangkok, there is an important difference. Burdett's main character is Thai and the Thai viewpoint plays heavily in those book. Rafferty, as his daughter argues, is an American who wants to be Thai. That tension is a key part of his character as the various elements of his personality lead him in one direction or the other.

This book reminds me of the early Robicheaux books by James Lee Burke. Both feature a good hearted character who goes out of his way to help the weak, while making improbable threatening statements to very bad people. There is also clearly a focus on long term character development with a range of idiosyncratic personalities for Hallinan to grow before the reader's eyes.

(Possible Spoiler)I'm not positive about this, but I believe the title of the book is allusion to Carol Reed and Graham Greene's The Third Man. In both cases the identity of the person is of great interest to the characters.


Tim said...

Hi, and thanks -- after a year at the keyboard, it's nice to know that some people actually enjoy the book. Your review is very perceptive, and (also) made my day.

By the way, the title isn't an allusion to Greene's wonderful book or Carol Reed's equally wonderful film. What it is, is the 19th or 20th title the folks at William Morrow and I considered after they decided not to go with my first one, which was THE MILLION DOLLAR MINUTE. But I'm flattered that you'd associate the title of this book with such richly atmospheric works.

Tim Hallinan

Tripp said...


At the risk of going spoilerish, there was a moment (one of my favorite in the book - involving the Watcher) that evoked a classic moment from the film.

I hope/assume that you will continue working with these characters and look forward to more from them.