BREATHING WATER by Timothy Hallinan

Book Quote:

“Hearing Miaow refer to herself as his daughter makes Rafferty smile, although he knows she won’t like his smile any more than she seems to like anything else these days.”

Book Review:

Review by Lynn Harnett (AUG 17, 2010)

Hallinan sets a breakneck pace in his third to feature American ex-pat and longtime Bangkok resident, Poke Rafferty. Married to Rose, a tall, confident Thai beauty, and adoptive father of Miaow, a precocious former street child, Rafferty gets involved in a poker sting while working on a book about crooks called Living Wrong.

But in addition to the marks, an extra player shows up, big, drunk and dangerous. Khun Pan, rich and ruthless, loses and takes it badly. Pan is the sort of man who grinds an expensive cigar out on a rare carpet just to flaunt his vulgar origins. To diffuse a violent outcome to the evening, Rafferty sets up one last bet and wins the right to write Pan’s biography, a heretofore forbidden project.

The next morning the project is plastered all over the morning papers and Rafferty soon gets two calls threatening his family. One insists that he drop the project; the other insists that he go on with it, using a list of sources best labeled “Pan’s enemies.”

Unfortunately, they both seem to have the clout and manpower to carry out their threats. His home is bugged, his family’s movements watched, he is followed and abducted at will from the street. On the defensive, reacting rather than acting, Rafferty knows he needs to gain control, to stop this scrabbling up a slippery slope in the dark.

First he visits Pan. Who lives in a marble mansion surrounded by two creation scenes – a theme park version of the Garden of Eden and a replica of the rickety farm village he came from, complete with pigsty, which has been allowed to ripen specially for the big charity bash he’s throwing.

Rafferty’s wife Rose is thrilled to be invited to the party. A child of rural poverty herself, she admires Pan – a man who came from nothing and hasn’t forgotten; whose good deeds are famous among the poor. She makes a mighty impression and leaves the party with an even higher opinion of Pan, hero of the downtrodden.

Then Rafferty begins digging into Pan’s past. A crime boss who rises into the upper echelons of the powerful doesn’t do it without help. What happened during the gap in Pan’s life – what’s the mystery that gave him disfiguring burns and set him on the path to legitimacy and political power?

He also begins exerting control on his surroundings, putting to work what he’s learned from the Thais about avoiding confrontations and showing a good face to the world. In all this he gets a lot of help – from Rose and Miaow (when she’s not acting like a brat), from his friend Arthit, a force to be reckoned with in the police and from Superman, the leader of a street gang of homeless urchins (reminiscent of the Baker Street Irregulars) – a crew that will be familiar to readers of the previous two books.

Suplots involving Arthit and his dying wife and Superman and a new street girl up from the country (like Pan and Rose), snared by a criminal gang and set out with a baby to beg, deepen the impact of a novel that offers complex characters and insight into Thai culture, Bangkok politics, human ruthlessness and the resourcefulness of those with nothing – some of them anyway.

Rafferty is a clever character with a flair for risk and a wry humor. His wife and daughter are equally appealing and the book crackles with wit, action and pulse-pounding suspense, strengthened by its emotional engagement.

Those who like John Burdett’s Bangkok novels will enjoy Hallinan’s as well – possibly more.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 35 readers
PUBLISHER: Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 17, 2010)
REVIEWER: Lynn Harnett
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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August 17, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Sleuths Series, Thailand-Bangkok

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