Breathing Water (otherwise known as Poke Rafferty #3) is actually the sixth of the Poke Rafferty novels I have read. I normally do not like to read a series in a different order than the one in which it was published, but author Timothy Hallinan makes that easier to do than most series authors, so if you find yourself caught up in that predicament, do not worry too much about it.
That said, of the six Rafferty books I have read, Breathing Water is my least favorite of the lot. Perhaps that is because I have also read all of Hallinan’s Junior Bender series, a series that is equally popular with fans of Timothy Hallinan books – and Rafferty’s predicament in Breathing Water is too reminiscent of the kind of thing that happens so regularly to Junior here in the U.S. (a wealthy bad guy blackmails Junior into doing something that he really does not want to get involved with). Too, there is a side plot, one involving the theft and sale of Thai and Cambodian babies to wealthy Westerners, that I found myself wishing had been the book’s main storyline.
Poke Rafferty is a travel guide writer who does his own research. Unfortunately for Poke, that research is sometimes dangerous and it often brings him into contact with some of Thailand’s shadiest politicians, pimps, policemen, and businessmen.
So…this time around Poke’s writing skills have gotten him into deep water, water so deep that even his wife and daughter might sink to the bottom with him. One of Thailand’s most popular folk heroes, who is in truth nothing more than a bottom feeding parasite, has decided that Poke is just the guy to write his flattering biography, one that the man hopes will propel him into high political office. When the “other side” gets wind of what Poke is up to, he gets equal pressure from them not to write the book. As Poke sees it (even though he would much prefer not writing the book), this is a lose-lose situation for him and those closest to him.
He expresses his problem this way: “If he goes in one direction, Rose and Miaow are in danger. If he goes in the other direction, Rose and Miaow are in danger. And ‘in danger’ is a euphemism.”
Poke calls on his old friend Arthit, that relatively rare thing known as the “honest Bangkok policeman,” for help, but Arthit has personal problems of his own to deal with. His wife is suffering from a debilitating disease and is finding it more and more difficult to deal with the painfully steady destruction of her body. Despite his problems, however, Arthit pulls himself together long enough to watch Poke’s back while Poke simultaneously worries greatly about his friend’s emotional wellbeing.
The central plot of Breathing Water is a complicated one and it demands that the reader pay full attention all the way through. The side plot is considerably less complicated but, as I said earlier, it is often the more compelling of the two. As always, however, I am happy with the long-term development of the recurring characters Poke, Rose, Miaow, and Arthit. Their evolving relationships are enthralling – and habit forming for the reader.