Imagine being chased --- hunted --- through a city you have made your own in a country not of your birth where you have a working familiarity with the language and the culture but don’t understand all of it. Then imagine that you are being hunted by the police at the behest of an individual of such demeanor (or aura, if you will) that he can suck the air out of a room --- or even out of the whole building --- by the simple act of walking through a doorway. That, in a nutshell, is THE FEAR ARTIST, the fifth installment in Timothy Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series, which by far is his best effort to date.
"Hallinan seems almost incapable of writing badly, and his Poke Rafferty series has been a personal favorite of mine from its inception. However, THE FEAR ARTIST sets an entirely new standard for the author against which his future efforts will be judged."
A travel writer of some renown with a knack for getting into trouble, Poke Rafferty is an American living in Bangkok with his wife, a former bar girl, and their adopted daughter. As one character indicates near the beginning of THE FEAR ARTIST, things happen in Rafferty’s vicinity. Those who have read the four preceding volumes know this all too well, and the same is demonstrated at the very beginning of this one, with what at flush blush appears to be a rehearsal for a slapstick pratfall but is actually anything but. Rafferty has just left a paint store when a large man, an American in his 60s, stumbles into him, and they both go down. Rafferty is able to get up, though he is splattered in paint. The gentleman who knocked into him is in far worse shape. He whispers a name and a place to Rafferty with his dying breath, slipping him a piece of paper before he expires.
A film crew records everything, yet initially nothing shows up on the television news. When it does, it is heavily edited and altered. Rafferty goes home to his empty apartment, which he had been hoping to paint while his wife and daughter were visiting relatives. Little does he know that he only has time to get that first coat on before being interrogated, released, and then suddenly and inexplicably pursued by the police. The man pulling the law enforcement strings is Murphy, an expert at interrogation who believes that Rafferty has information that can cost him a lot of money. Murphy is a scary and extremely unpleasant individual, and his adolescent daughter is even worse.
Rafferty slowly but steadily discovers why he has been pushed down the rabbit hole, as well as precisely who and what Murphy is. Then, with help from a familiar but unexpected source, he begins pursuing Murphy. There is only one problem, though. Murphy is one of the most dangerous people on earth, an irresistible force that knows the hows of administering pain and death like no one else. So the question becomes: What is Rafferty --- no pushover, but still a travel writer --- going to do once he gets a hold of Murphy? The answer to that question, and the events leading up to it from page one and beyond, make this book a one-sit, all-night read that will haunt you long after you are finished.
Hallinan seems almost incapable of writing badly, and his Poke Rafferty series has been a personal favorite of mine from its inception. However, THE FEAR ARTIST sets an entirely new standard for the author against which his future efforts will be judged. Strongly recommended for your must-read lists.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 17, 2012