Sunday 04 Dec 2016

Breathing Water
Jennifer Ramirez

In the third Bangkok Thriller novel, Hallinan's ex-pat American travel writer wins a poker game with a powerful Thai businessman. The stakes? Poke Rafferty gets to write the tycoon's biography and to discover if Balzac was right when he said that behind every great fortune lies a great crime. Fast-paced, exciting, well written, and as believable as Bangkok itself, “Breathing Water” is remarkable crime fiction.


The book is set in the Bangkok of today and has all the risks of its real life: a shaky political situation, great poverty and great wealth, street children and those who prey on them, corruption, and the pull of love and death. This all makes for an excellent setting for a thriller, plus an engaging plot that pulls all the complexities of the city together.  Hallinan opens the book with a few short chapters that are wonderful. You more than likely will pause momentarily after reading them, check on your loved ones and say a silent prayer of thanks to whatever higher power you address for their continued safety. The author then turns to Rafferty, who, thanks to the machinations of his friend Arthit, is in the middle of a high stakes poker game.

Poke has been writing about the seedier side of Bangkok for a while now, and when he butts heads with Pan during the game, he makes a wager he's going to regret. If he loses, he leaves Thailand, including his wife, a former go-go dancer with no passport, and his daughter, a girl they've taken in from the street. Poke love both as much as he loves this country he'll never quite understand, but as long as he has to gamble, he ups the ante. If he wins, he get's to write Pan's biography, and uncover whatever darkness in the man's past was used to lever him up from street thug to socialite.

You have no choice but to flail along with Poke, cursing the twists and turns, aching to finish, and knowing you’re gonna hurt in the morning. You pray anxiously hoping that no one finds out what you’re doing, and at the same time, you can’t wait to tell everyone you know. You send up an apology to your mother, and you keep turning the pages. A hero to the poor and dispossessed, Pan is like a bone in the throats of the beautiful, superior "good" people who own and control every facet of Thailand and want more. There are many who would prefer that a book, especially a sympathetic book, stay unwritten. And there are others who want to expose Pan's darker secrets, information useful in a preemptive strike against this profligate billionaire who can threaten their hold on power--a situation they will go to murderous lengths to prevent.

Hallinan paints a vibrant picture of the political scene currently unfolding on the streets of Bangkok. A place, as Hallinan says, where children are sold by the pound. You may ask why would you want to read a story about political corruption in some strange country thousands of miles away. Hallinan answers that question easily: Rose, Miaow, Arthit and Noi. He deftly interweaves multiple complicated storylines centered around the lives of these familiar characters. Longtime fans will cheer the return of Boo aka: Superman. The introduction of two new characters, Da and Peep, will wrench your heart and leave you reaching for the tissues as you keep turning the pages. The plot turns on issues of modern political reality, not just for Thailand, but all over the world. Democracies, even corrupt ones, are coming to terms with the typical classes gaining a voice through elections, and putting up their own candidates for office. Economic destabilization is only the facade behind which political destabilization lurks, and the most effective forces in the country are determined that they will not lose the control they've held for so long.

 “Breathing Water” is as outstanding a piece of crime fiction as I have had the pleasure of reading, from the clean prose of the author to Poke Rafferty's noir humor and the richness of the Thai landscape. I highly recommend it.

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Click on title, below, to read a review of other books by Timothy Hallinan

Crashed, the first book in the Junior Bender series.

The Fear Artist, a Poke Rafferty thriller set in Bangkok.

Fourth Watcher, a Poke Rafferty thriller set in Bangkok.

Nail Through the Heart, a Poke Rafferty thriller set in Bangkok.

Queen of Patpong, a Poke Rafferty thriller set in Bangkok.

Jennifer Ramirez, known as Jenny, has reviewed and edited for 5+ years. Originally from Toronto, she grew up performing and competing in rhythmic gymnastics. Jenny enjoys reviewing movies, books and music albums. She describes herself as funny and righteous, with a 'go that extra mile' attitude. Her philosophy is quite simple: try to live life to the fullest Jenny writes that hr passion is books. She reads and reviews current and back-list literary fiction, crime fiction, thrillers, occasionally science fiction, and narrative nonfiction. She also loves music. She's a huge fan of The Maine and All Time Low! Joy is her favorite word and creativity is something she can't live without.

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