Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Timothy Hallinan has accomplished the great exploit of creating characters many of us have grown attached to over the years with his Poke Rafferty Thriller series, and in the ninth novel, titled Street Music, we’re finally reaching the terminal station. In this last outing of his, we witness Poke investigating into the disappearance of a cantankerous old gang member, all while contending with the puzzling trials of being a father and seeing his daughter maturing into a woman.
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Timothy Hallinan Ends the Grand Adventure
Fictional characters tend to be a strange bunch, with their creators managing to make us care for them despite knowing very well they are not and will never be real people. In our mind’s eye, the more time we spend with them, the more we learn of their past and their stories, the greater the significance they take on in our actual lives.
It goes without saying not every author is capable of accomplishing such a feat, but I would certainly argue Timothy Hallinan has succeeded in becoming one of them with his Poke Rafferty Thriller series. It has gone on for years now, and this ninth novel titled Street Music brings the whole show to a close.
Before moving on, while Street Music definitely works as a standalone, I think we can all agree starting a series at the end is a little weird. At the same time, I don’t think it’s fair to say you have to read all eight previous novels to understand this one, either. In a perfect world, I’d recommend at least some familiarity with the series before proceeding, but if you’re keen on just reading this novel alone, then you can do this too.
In any case, the story picks up with Poke Rafferty now having a full-blown family to take care of, with his Thai wife Rose, his adopted daughter Miaow, and his newborn son Frank. More of an adventurer than a caretaker, Poke is more often than not lost in his very own world, unsure of what to do with his son who spends most of his time crying, nor with his daughter who is maturing into a woman faster than he can keep up with. The struggles are very real.
Thankfully, the world Rafferty knows quite well still comes knocking at his door, with an old cantankerous gang member having suddenly disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Relishing the chance to take a break from home life, even if it is to throw himself headlong into danger, Poke undertakes an investigation which takes some unexpected turns, and leads him face-to-face with someone who has the power to destroy him and his family for good.
Another Excursion into Thailand’s Darkness in Street Music
Over the years the Poke Rafferty Thriller novels, despite tackling a wide array of subjects of themes, have always been centred on the darkness of Thailand’s underworld, something Hallinan is probably in a better place to observe than most of us here in the Western world.
Though his novels have always been marked by good doses of humour and lighter passages, he never held back when it came to shining the light on the dark and heavy topics which reach all the way into our real world, and this time around is no exception.
If you aren’t familiar with the kind of underworld Bangkok has, at least in the Poke Rafferty books, let me just say it borrows quite a lot from reality and is associated with some of the dirtiest deeds human beings could ever do, including wanton murder and human trafficking. There are some fairly powerful passages which forced me to take a bit of a break before reading onward, if only for the knowledge the suffering described within is only fictional to an extent.
Fortunately for writers, literary characters don’t have unions.― Timothy Hallinan, Street Music
In most cases, I would say this type of content won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but considering how accurately it reflects the problems faced by real people in the real world, it’s something I believe we all need to be exposed to, at least to some extent. Rest assured, Hallinan doesn’t simply describe horrific crimes for mere shock value; they all play their own roles within the story and through them we often learn about other characters and the state of their world. Additionally, Rafferty doesn’t stay indifferent to the suffering around him and does manage to bring some good into the world, bringing some much needed counter-balancing to the creeping darkness.
The Family Man’s Trials
With this being Poke’s last outing into the published world (at least as far as the foreseeable future is concerned), I was quite happy to see the amount of focus which was placed on him as a character and the development of his family.
Though he may have almost taken on a larger-than-life quality with all the adventures we’ve seen him on, his struggles with some of life’s universal challenges bring him back to down to Earth and remind us he is, in the end, nothing more than a mere man.
It really is endearing to watch him try and understand what to do with his newborn son, how his perspectives and priorities begin to shift as a result of it, and how his relationship with the rest of his family is transformed as a result. These little family moments are written with a lot of heart and a distinct air of natural authenticity, making me think Hallinan is speaking from his own experience more than his imagination.
I’m one hundred percent certain those who have gone through parenthood will easily relate to Poke’s confusion in the face of being a first-time-father, as well as his countless concerns over his daughter’s future.
In the end, Street Music is much more than just a thriller, also serving as a bittersweet examination of the big moments and challenges in life which define us for ourselves as well as in the memories of others. There are a good number of exciting and dangerous elements weaved around Rafferty and his role as a family man, pushing him to make the sorts of decisions which will cement his personality for evermore.
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I don’t want to spoil the dangers the Rafferty’s end up facing, but I can assure you their resolution is about as worthy of a send-off as we could have asked for one of the more unique and unforgettable characters in modern thrillers.
The Final Verdict
Street Music by Timothy Hallinan reminds us everything must come to an end eventually, and gives Poke Rafferty a send-off worthy of the best heroes. Exploring for one last time the frighteningly realistic criminal underworld of Bangkok while completing Rafferty’s development into a true family man, this book will be an absolute joy to anyone who is familiar with the series, or simply looking for a strong, well-written and evocative thriller with a wealth of emotional depth to it.
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.