Return to Thailand with Timothy Hallinan
The mysterious and majestic streets of Bangkok hold many secrets and wonders for the knowledgeable traveler, but not without a big and seedy underbelly to come along with them. It’s the kind of place where turning the right corner could have you find anything in you need, one where fun and excitement mingle in the same pool as sex trafficking and murder. The wrong person can end up at the wrong place all too easily, and in Fools’ River Timothy Hallinan takes us back to this wondrous land in yet another Poke Rafferty novel, a man whose unusual name is only a precursor to the strangeness he lives through and the two bizarrely hellish days that await him.
The story begins to unfold as Poke receives a visit from the kid who is pretty much the boyfriend of his teenage daughter. The boy’s father, Buddy, a known lover of women, came to Bangkok not long ago to chase after some skirts and try his hand in the honey pot, so to speak. Unfortunately, what he got in return was something entirely different: a kidnapping. Shortly after his disappearance, money starts being syphoned out of his account, and suddenly things become quite clear. He fell afoul of a pair of killers who prey on rich tourists, emptying their accounts before finally murdering them, with their bodies always showing up in Bangkok canal with a weighted cast on their leg. Poke understands that time is of the essence now, for he has about forty-eight hours before the killers finish their little project, before Buddy is finally bled dry in both the literal and figurative sense of the term.
A Trip with Barely Any Stops
As you might expect considering the subject matter of this book, this is one thriller that moves along rather quickly and doesn’t take much time to appreciate the surroundings or let the reader ponder on any big philosophical themes or anything of the sort. While there are of course some beautiful locale descriptions, they take a back-seat to the frantic pace of the story that keeps on moving from one scene to the next without so much as a breather. This really helps to build a very real sense of tension and urgency, making the reader appreciate the value which every single minute has in the search for a man whose clock is ticking down all too quickly.
The book may take very few moments of respite, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to take your time to digest a few things. As was the case with previous novels, it seems Hallinan placed a bit more care in describing the villainous underside of the city, which includes popular activities such as police corruption, sex slavery, humiliation of woman, children trafficking, and gratuitous violence, just to name a few. While myself I never had the pleasure of exploring the city myself, from what I’ve read it feels like Hallinan really did his research on this one and is shedding light on some very real problems that are consuming Bangkok from within. It all feels quite tangible, and the pace of the story serves to add a bit more shock value as we stumble from one darkness into the next.
A World Not Without Light
While much of the story is indeed somber and based on a rather morbid premise, that doesn’t mean there is no light to be found here. To begin with, the characters themselves are quite agreeable, easy to follow and fascinating in their own ways. They all have their own realistic flaws that we’ve likely seen a million times in other people, if not ourselves. However, they are also quite loyal to each other, mentally resilient, and have a relatively flexible sense of morality, only bending the rules to a point if it’s absolutely necessary. While of course it can be argued that a couple of them feel a bit too perfect in terms of morals, in the end it’s fun and inspiring to watch them play this game of cat-and-mouse and seeing how they are going to tackle the particular problems set in front of them.
There are also a few lighter moments that are peppered throughout the story, offering some much-needed breaks from the pitch-black horrors of humanity. For instance, we see Poke’s daughter getting acquainted with Shakespeare, Rose craving cherries and orange slices due to her pregnancy, the heat driving literally everyone crazy, and a few more relaxing moments that give this story a bit more humanity, something that is sorely needed considering how unsettling the rest of the story is. Do keep in mind that for the most part, it is an exploration of the depravity and decadence humans are really capable of, concepts that the main villains convey perfectly without any faults.
The Final Verdict
Looking back on this book, I can safely say that it’s a healthy mix of thrills, drama and depravity seasoned with a few moments of light humour here and there. It’s an exciting story that tries to keep moving and does a fantastic job at captivating the reader’s interest, always presenting fresh information to be absorbed, whether it’s about the characters, the setting or the story itself. It’s the kind of story you’ll probably read in one or two sittings and feel like it ended way too soon, no matter how long it actually was… and afterwards, a plethora of feelings and realizations to deal with. All in all, this is definitely one of the best thrillers set in the alluring country of Thailand, and Timothy Hallinan definitely knows what he’s talking about. I heavily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys kidnapping-based thrillers.
Timothy Hallinan is an American writer who has lived off and on in Bangkok since the early 1980s, using his time there as inspiration for his new series revolving around a rough-and-tumble travel writer by the name of Philip Rafferty. His two other series are about Simeon Grist, a private detective in Los Angeles, and Junior Bender, a thief with a sense of morality. His most popular works include Skin Deep, A Nail Through the Heart, and Little Elvises.