Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Hot Countries

Tim Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series hit the ground running in 2007 with A Nail Through the Heart and it has never slowed down.  And with the October 2015 release of The Hot Countries, the seventh book in the series, Poke Rafferty fans again have reason to celebrate. 

Longtime fans will already know this, but for the uninitiated, I’ll give a little basic background about Poke Rafferty and those closest to him.  Poke is a semi-successful travel writer whose travel guides are a bit offbeat in the way that they sometimes focus on the seedier sides of the cities he is exploring – and that’s exactly what he was looking to do when he came to Bangkok.  But along the way, life happened.  Poke is now married to Rose, a former bar girl, and they are living happily together with Miaow, their adopted daughter.  (Miaow, who was living on the streets when Poke spotted her, is probably my favorite character in the whole series.)

But Poke is more, much more, than just a travel guide writer.  The man is a born fixer, and he does not mind getting his hands dirty.  When he sees someone suffering at the hands of others, he wants to fix it – and with the help of some friends he usually does just that.  Poke’s most important “helper” is Arthit, a high-ranking Thai policeman, who also just happens to be Poke’s best friend.  The relationship between these two strong men has, in fact, been a beautiful thing to watch as it has developed and deepened over the seven books.

But now, in The Hot Countries, everyone closest to Poke is being threatened by a mysterious stranger who wants two things from Poke and will gladly kill any number of innocent people if it forces Poke to give him what he wants.  But there are two problems: Poke does not even have one of the things being demanded of him, and he will be damned if he will give up the other one.  And so it begins.

Author Timothy Hallinan 
But as the bodies begin to fall and he ever so slowly closes in on the man responsible, Poke will get some help from the unlikeliest group of heroes imaginable: a bunch of seedy old men who came to Bangkok decades ago strictly to enjoy the city’s wide open sex trade.  Now, what’s left of these men spend their days and nights hanging out at the Expat Bar, where they do their best to pretend that they are still the young, virile men who first sat on one of those barstools so many long years ago.  And who knows?  Maybe they do still have a little gas left in the tank after all.

Hallinan, in one paragraph, captures the sad essence of these men.  Here is part of that paragraph:

            “One night on Patpong around 3 a.m., exhausted, half drunk, and unwilling to return to the home he hand turned into a shrine to her (the Thai woman he was still in love with) he walked into a tiny place called the Expat Bar.  And he stayed for forty-three years.

Getting old.” 

The ending of The Hot Countries achieved something that rarely happens to me when I am reading: it left me with a tear in my eye.  I am a fan of series writing because of the way the good ones so fully develop not only the main character, but also several supporting characters.  I have read in and out of many crime fiction series since the eighties, and a few of them are so remarkable that they have become longtime favorite books of mine.  The Poke Rafferty series has earned its place among this select group.  I look forward (and hope) to be reading more Poke Rafferty stories for a long, long time.

Post #2,571


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Tim. I have to tell you that it was one of the easiest ones I've written in a while because of how much I truly enjoy the whole series.

  2. Well presented -- really captures the spirit of the Poke books. Very much enjoyed your take on it.

  3. I suck at writing reviews, so thanks for stating so clearly and succinctly exactly what I think of the book, the series, and the author. Well, I think a few other things about the author, but we won't go into those here... :-)

    1. Everett, I appreciate the kind remarks. Thanks for taking the time to comment.