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Friday, July 06, 2012

The Fear Artist


All Poke Rafferty wanted to do was paint his Bangkok apartment.  Unfortunately for him, he needed to buy paint before he could start the job.  That is what almost got him killed.

The Fear Artist is Timothy Hallinan's fifth Poke Rafferty book, but my first, so I am guessing that as Poke has aged over the series, his priorities have changed.  He is now very much a family man, and the two most important people in the world to him are his Thai wife, Rose, and the young teen they rescued from the streets of Bangkok when she was just a child.  As the book opens, Bangkok is threatened by rising water and Rose and Miaow are in the north of the country visiting Rose's family while Poke paints their apartment.

As he exits the paint store, heavy cans in hand, Poke is slammed into by a large man and the paint crashes to the sidewalk, the two men not far behind.  Suddenly, Poke realizes that the man, who appears to be either German or American, has been shot and is dying from his wounds.  Before he dies, the man manages to whisper a woman's name and a city into Poke's ear and slips a piece of paper into his shirt pocket.  Left covered in paint and the man's blood, Poke is shocked when a Thai detective tells him that the man appears to have died of a heart attack - and was not shot.

Poke is willing to mind his own business, but when he is hauled in for a police interrogation, he learns that some very powerful people suspect that he knows more about the man and his death than he should.  Soon, Poke will be running for his life from Thai authorities and some very cutthroat agents of the U.S. government.  They, however, turn out to be the least of his worries because he has become a threat to “The Fear Artist,” a psychotic American determined to eliminate anyone who knows what he did during the war in Viet Nam as an agent of the U.S. government.

Tim Hallinan
The Fear Artist is filled with wonderfully developed characters, not the least of which is the city of Bangkok itself.  Those already familiar with the series, will know how delightful Rose and Miaow are, but those two do not reunite with Poke until near the end of the book.  Rather, it is the side characters and side plots (including Poke's reunion with his half-sister, Ming Li), that really make The Fear Artist so much fun to read.

Even though Murphy, “The Fear Artist,” is a bit over the top, he is made more human by the warped relationship he has with his own mixed race daughter, a little girl he is shaping into an image of himself.  When Murphy's determination to train his little girl in the deadly arts spooks Ming Li, who remembers her father’s insistence on teaching her the same trade, Poke will find it difficult to make her see the difference in the two men’s intentions. 

Tim Hallinan's story is long on atmosphere and character, but it includes all the traditional elements of a good international crime thriller, as well.  This is another series I am putting on my list of series to catch up on.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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