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Monday 15 Jul 2024

The Fear Artist
Jennifer Ramirez

An accidental collision on a Bangkok sidewalk goes quite wrong when the man who ran into Rafferty dies in his arms, but not before saying three words: Helen Eckersley. Cheyenne.

"The Fear Artist," by Timothy Hallinan. is dark thriller set in Bangkok, Thailand. It is the fifth book in a series starring Poke Rafferty, a man who somehow always finds a way to get himself into trouble. It’s not as if he’s inviting it, it’s just that trouble follows him wherever he goes, even outside a store that sells paints in a street in Bangkok.The author seems to know the city inside out and so does his hero. Poke has been living there for years with his Thai wife Rose and his adopted daughter Miaow. He enjoys the life, he more or less likes the place, but like most of the foreigners that live in Thailand, he’s really critical of the farang people that populate its more touristic spots, either residents or mere visitors.

Poke's wife Rose, an attractive former Patpong dancer, and their adopted 12-year-old daughter Miaow have left Bangkok to visit Rose's family. While they're gone, Poke is going to paint their apartment. Apricot Cream for Rose; Urban Decay for Miaow. He is walking out of the store carrying the paint when some pedestrians run past. A "once-tough" American or German man in his sixties knocks him down. Poke hears noises like the cracks of a bat hitting a ball. Before they can stand up, the man whispers three words and dies. Practically instantly, policemen and a TV crew appear. The police hustle Poke away.

Some of the most amusing moments we witness in this novel have to do with Vladimir and his buddies; people who know a lot, and who are willing to do a lot more for a price. Poke doesn’t like them at first, but as time goes by they start to grow on him. And they do have a code of honor that makes them more human than most, since they always take care of each other and their families if anything goes wrong.

It's quite enjoyable to watch Poke evade everyone with low-tech resources, some luck, and a friend in the police force, and the plot leads to the inevitable violent conclusion by a circuitous route that includes Poke's half sister, his own gangster father, some Vietnamese refugees, some Soviet-bloc spies more or less retired in Bangkok, an uncommon femme fatale, and Murphy's bizarre extended family. Poke's plan to get out of the mess he didn't create strains credulity at some points, but the real point of the book is somewhere else.

Poke is not a people’s person, but he’s a man of the people; someone who will do anything to help a friend, to save a poor soul from life on the street, to solve a murder. What we are is what we do, that’s what he thinks, and that’s how he acts. This time though he seems to have gone way over his head and in order to survive he has to seek some help. Some of it he’ll buy, most of it he’ll receive as an unpredicted gift and a blessing in his life. Hallinan sets his series in an amazing foreign location and then writes with insight, style, and wit. Hallinan has a gift for creating unforgettable characters, a turn of phrase, dialogue, and descriptions that merit re-reading. There are some disturbing scenes of torture suitable to the plot. Suspense builds to a clever ending.

With "The Fear Artist," Timothy Hallinan delivers yet another a white-knuckle thriller that takes us into a city we obviously do not know, and shows us that while it’s worse than we were told, it’s also better than we could have ever hoped.  This is a thriller all right, but it’s not only that. The author, using the murder as the starting point, takes the opportunity to talk about what’s going on in the region: the Vietnam war whose shadow still seems to linger over the lives of too many people, the trouble in the south of Thailand, the greedy businessmen and the corrupt political figures who would do anything to win yet another contract and to make yet more money, and about the war on terror; an end that apparently justifies any means. Open the cover of one of Tim Hallinan's books, and you are not only investing your time, you are investing your mind and your heart.

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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