Review

The Fourth Watcher: A Novel of Bangkok

by Timothy Hallinan

Southeast Asia, particularly Bangkok, is once again fertile
ground for thrillers. And why not? Say (or read) the name
“Bangkok” and it conjures up all sorts of images and
emotions: lust, danger, violence, money. It’s a place that
most of us are only going to be able to visit vicariously.
It’s also a large enough city that one can read any number of
novels that use it as a backdrop without subconsciously wondering
if any of the characters are crossing paths in some alternate
universe. I can think of three authors off the top of my head
currently mining this potentially rich mother lode. All of them
have been at it for varying lengths of time and, interestingly
enough, are beginning to break big at the same time. Timothy
Hallinan is one of them; THE FOURTH WATCHER, the second installment
in his Poke Rafferty series (after A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART), may
well be his breakthrough novel.

Rafferty is a travel writer living in Bangkok who has achieved some
success penning a series of offbeat books titled Looking for
Trouble
, which deal with the underside of Southeast Asian
countries that the other guidebooks never mention and where the
buses don’t run. As THE FOURTH WATCHER opens, Rafferty is
doing some research for a new book and coming to grips with
happiness; his girlfriend Rose, a former bar dancer, is ensconced
in his apartment, as is Miaow, an eight-year-old street orphan whom
Rose and Rafferty are in the process of adopting. Rafferty wants
nothing more than for them to be a family, a reasonable enough wish
that is made difficult on two fronts.

The first is when Rose’s cleaning business --- legitimate
by any definition, and especially so by Bangkok standards ---
appears to be involved in the passing of counterfeit money from
North Korea. The second is ironic, and ultimately much more
dangerous. Rafferty’s father Frank, who abandoned his family
when Rafferty was young and who subsequently rebuffed
Rafferty’s attempt at contact, is suddenly back in his life,
with a daughter (Rafferty’s half-sister) in tow and a very
angry pursuer. Colonel Chu is Frank’s former
“employer.” Frank quit without notice, taking
Chu’s full retirement stash, and more, with him. By doing so,
he has placed not only himself in danger but also Rafferty and his
erstwhile family. Rafferty is not without resources, including a
contact who may or may not be a CIA agent at any given moment, and
Arthit, a refreshingly honest Bangkok police officer who at any
given point threatens to steal the book away from Rafferty.

The quiet star of THE FOURTH WATCHER, however, is Miaow, whose
existence on the street compressed decades of hard living into a
few short years, somehow leaving her worldly and wise beyond her
years without ruining her. Hallinan’s touch is subtle but
stinging, however, so that one does not get very far into THE
FOURTH WATCHER without realizing that anything can, and will,
happen in his Bangkok, and that any, and all, are expendable.

Hallinan knows his territory and presents it well --- for one, the
“no hands” restaurant he describes actually exists,
though under a different name --- so that one can understand the
attraction that Rafferty feels toward Bangkok and its shifting,
occasionally inscrutable, rules. If you’re looking for a
series set in a different, exotic locale, THE FOURTH WATCHER will
sink the hook.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

The Fourth Watcher: A Novel of Bangkok
by Timothy Hallinan

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0061257265
  • ISBN-13: 9780061257261