For the Dead: A Poke Rafferty Thriller
You need to be reading Timothy Hallinan if you are not already. He has two active series going, so he is hard to miss. One features Junior Bender, a burglar to the underworld who operates in Los Angeles. The other, and the one who brings me here today, is the Poke Rafferty series. Rafferty is a travel writer who lives in Bangkok with his wife, Rose, and daughter Miaow. FOR THE DEAD, the newest installment, has just dropped and is nothing less than his best work to date.
What? You need more than that? I’m happy to oblige. FOR THE DEAD, as Hallinan advises in his chatty and wonderful afterword, is the first book about Miaow. She’s been featured in the preceding volumes, but comes into her own here. Hallinan has been advancing the timelines of his characters from the beginning, and there are some major developments, set against the backdrop of one of the world’s most exotic cities. It is Miaow --- on the cusp of adolescence and with a kind-of boyfriend, no less --- who really provides the spark in FOR THE DEAD. The book itself begins with three apparently unrelated storylines: a violent multiple murder is carried out, execution-style, in a high-rise condominium; a couple of kids, one step away from the street, find a phone and a homeless girl close to dying and huddled in a no-name alley; and Miaow and Andrew, her erstwhile boyfriend, go hunting for a bargain iPhone in one of Bangkok’s many black market areas.
"Hallinan has been slowly and steadily building up a loyal readership with each new book. With its cinematic narrative and poignant relationships, FOR THE DEAD should bring him the new legion of fans that he has so long deserved."
These different vignettes, which begin so far apart, converge rather quickly. The smartphone that Miaow and Andrew ultimately acquire contains some rather incriminating photographs that some extremely dangerous people want very badly. The chase begins rather early in FOR THE DEAD, and if you are a fan of what has become known as “ruin porn” --- descriptions (in this case) of abandoned buildings --- you will be fully sated in the book, wherein Miaow uses her street smarts in an attempt to escape from a couple of malevolent pursuers, which, if you are like me, will have you holding the book at arms’ length and rocking back and forth even after the chase concludes.
Some of Hallinan’s best writing is found there and elsewhere, particularly as the Rafferty household begins to adjust to some unexpected news, a process that carries on intermittently for a good portion of the book. While there are plenty of foot and car chases, fisticuffs and a murder or five, Hallinan is able to wring suspense of a different sort out of everyday domestic tableaus as well. If there is a thriller novel published this year that contains a more perfect balance between plot and character than FOR THE DEAD, I either haven’t read it yet or have momentarily forgotten it.
However, it is not all tea and rice in FOR THE DEAD. There is a mystery at the book’s core, and a complicated one at that, concerning why the murders that seem to be linked to so much of what occurs are, in fact, taking place. The answer goes to the heart of Thai politics, a complex labyrinth that Hallinan expertly negotiates as he takes Rafferty and the reader through several layers of the past and present. And while the storyline is ultimately resolved, Hallinan leaves one major thread developing for the next installment. Did I mention that the novel’s final line is one of the best I’ve read in 2014? It’s a fine sentiment with which to close out the year, but no peeking please. You will enjoy it more if you read what leads up to it.
Hallinan has been slowly and steadily building up a loyal readership with each new book. With its cinematic narrative and poignant relationships, FOR THE DEAD should bring him the new legion of fans that he has so long deserved. Read it and join the club.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 21, 2014