Published 2007 by Harper Collins
Review by Kerrie Smith
Poke Rafferty, an American, a farang, is the author of a number of
very popular travel books in a series called "Looking for Trouble". Poke
lives in Bangkok with Rose, a Thai woman, an ex-prostitute, whom he wants
to marry, and a little girl called Miaow, rescued from the streets, whom
he wants to adopt. Miaow has herself selected a street boy nicknamed
Superman to rescue, but he appears to be a killer.
Able to speak Thai fluently, Poke is accepted in the local community where
he lives. Poke's friend Arthit is a rare example of an honest Thai
policeman. From time to time he and Poke do each other favours. Arthit
tells Poke of an Australian woman who is trying to find her missing uncle
Claus Ulrich, and Rafferty agrees to meet with Clarissa. The novel is set
just after the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004. Many Bangkok people are in
mourning, many have lost immediate family. Down on the coast in Phuket
bodies are constantly turning up, but Poke doubts that elderly and
overweight Claus would have been there.
There are some things that Poke hates: the exploitation of Thai women in
brothels and bars, and the child sex industry from which he believes he
has rescued Miaow. Following a lead which he hopes will locate the missing
man's housemaid, Poke is offered a huge amount of money to track down a
stolen item. Something is not quite right and suddenly he finds himself in
more trouble than he had ever envisaged.
This was a book that grew on me. I like the way it is structured, the way
the section headings relate to the title, its division into short
chapters, and the careful choice of provocative chapter titles. I like
Poke - there is something of the larrikin about him, from a quirky sense
of humour, his willingness to take on the role of knight errant, to his
tenderness for both Rose and Miaow, and his empathy for the suffering of
the victims of sexual abuse. Hallinan's depiction of Bangkok rings true:
where the new and old, wealthy and poor, live right next to each other,
where farangs like Poke struggle to understand Thai culture but at
the same time try to improve the lives of the homeless and vulnerable.
Not only does Poke Rafferty come alive, but so do other characters such as
Rose and the ex-prostitutes she is trying to get employed as domestics,
the children Miaow and Superman, Hank Morrison who works hard to get
adoption approval for homeless Thai children, and even the reprehensible
Madam Wing, the old woman offering a fortune for the retrieval of her
A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART raises real questions of morality. Hallinan
forces the reader to take these questions on board because not everything
that Poke does is right. This is not a book every reader will enjoy. It
describes a world in which most of us do not move, one in which sadists
and the sexually depraved profit at the expense of women and children,
where children are sold in a widespread South East Asian sex industry.
Some people will know Tim Hallinan as the author of the Simon Grist series
including EVERYTHING BUT THE SQUEAL (1990), INCINERATOR (1992), THE MAN
WITH NO TIME (1993), and THE BONE POLISHER (1995). But as his web site
tells, Hallinan had to start again.
A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART is the first in a new series, centering on Poke
Rafferty. The second novel in the Bangkok series, THE FOURTH WATCHER, will
be released in June 2008, and Hallinan has been contracted for a third.
For more details see
The website, by the way, contains Hallinan's advice to writers on how to
get their book finished, things he's learnt in the process of writing his
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