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Fools' River: A Poke Rafferty Thriller


Fools' River: A Poke Rafferty Thriller

I need you to purchase and read FOOLS’ RIVER by Timothy Hallinan. My thought after finishing it is that it might be the best book I’ve read this year --- yes, even at this late date --- and certainly the most moving without being maudlin.

Hallinan writes three excellent series: one set in Los Angeles involving a professional burglar named Junior Bender (which is worth your time as well); the Simeon Grist series, which had been on hiatus for a while but was recently and unexpectedly revived; and the Poke Rafferty thrillers set in Thailand. FOOLS’ RIVER is part of the Rafferty canon, documenting the life of an American expatriate living in Bangkok with his wife, Rose, and their adopted daughter, Miaow. The focus of the last few Rafferty books has gradually shifted off of Rafferty, known for his travel writing, and onto the now-teenage, and always precocious, Miaow. Indeed, it is Miaow’s friendship --- and very tentative romantic entanglement --- with Edward Dell, her schoolmate, that provides the primary impetus for most, though not quite all, of what occurs here.

"[I]t might be the best book I’ve read this year --- yes, even at this late date --- and certainly the most moving without being maudlin."

Edward, bequeathed with startling good looks that are wasted on the young, comes to Miaow, who in turn goes to Rafferty when Edward’s father goes missing. Buddy is what is known to the American community in Thailand as a “sexpat,” which (in Buddy’s case) is a tomcat on the edge of senioritis with a seemingly insatiable taste for the strange. While Buddy may have disappeared, his bank accounts are being drained downward with the same speed at which his credit card balances are achieving stratospheric levels. Rafferty does a bit of checking with his police sources and discovers a pattern of similar occurrences in Bangkok, almost all of which end with the sexpat being recycled as canal fish food. The reader knows a bit of this as the novel’s point of view shifts occasionally to the helpless Buddy, who is being held drugged and restrained against his will at a secret location while being coerced into signing checks as his bank accounts are hemorrhaging.

While it is hard to feel much sympathy for Buddy, for whom Edward seems to rank a distant third on his list of priorities, Edward is a solid enough character that his friendship with Miaow is enough to give the reader reason to hope that Rafferty, with the unofficial-official assistance that can only be found in Bangkok, will be successful in locating Buddy. The clock is ticking, given that Buddy has been absent for several days, and, based on the experiences of timeframes between the disappearances and deaths of the other sexpatriates, his sell-by date is fast approaching.

Meanwhile, another of Miaow’s friends who is regrettably caught up in one of the seamier corners of Bangkok’s apparently unlimited sex trade is having her difficulties as well. Rafferty takes enough time to help her out, even as Rose, who is heavy with child, has her own challenges to deal with, which may play out over future volumes of the series.

Ticking clocks? There are a whole room full of them in FOOLS’ RIVER as the stories play out over the course of a very busy couple of days for Rafferty and all concerned. Hallinan combines emotion and sharp characterization with an unblinking gaze into the coldness of Bangkok street life, even as he provides a contrasting element of compassion from sources both likely and otherwise. He does this with a prose style and character development that are Chandleresque in their execution (there is no other term for it).

Here’s one example. About halfway through the story, Hallinan briefly introduces a character --- the wife of one of the sexpatriate victims --- and lets her hold sway for a few pages before she disappears, gone though anything but forgotten. Read the book, and tell me she does not spring from the same Muse that whispered in Raymond Chandler’s ear. Hallinan does this time and again in his novels, so regularly that favorable comparisons are inevitable.

That isn’t even the best of what FOOLS' RIVER is. If one took out a little bit of this and a thimble of that from the book, it almost could be an excellent young adult novel. And if you have an emotionally advanced teen in your house, you might consider giving it to them to read, just so they can get a glimpse of how truly good and well their lot in life is compared to those in certain corners of the world. Did you give thanks this morning because you had a pair of shoes that 1) fit and 2) matched? You will do so after reading FOOLS’ RIVER. For that reason, and for so many others, I strongly recommend it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 10, 2017

Fools' River: A Poke Rafferty Thriller
by Timothy Hallinan

  • Publication Date: September 25, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime
  • ISBN-10: 161695972X
  • ISBN-13: 9781616959722