Title: The Fear Artist (Poke Rafferty Mystery #5)
Author: Timothy Hallinan
Kindle; Hardcover to be released July 17, 2012; Soho Press
The main character: Poke Rafferty is a travel writer living in Thailand with his wife Rose and adopted daughter Miaow. He has gotten involved in solving murders and crimes before in the City of Angels which is Bangkok, and this is the fifth in the thriller series featuring Poke, in which crime and politics just seems to single him out for involvement.
The plot: Poke is minding his own business on the Bangkok streets, buying paint for their apartment while his wife and daughter are away visiting relatives in the northeast. Demonstrators against government policies in the volatile south of Thailand are suddenly dispersed by police and come rushing down the street when Poke is carrying two cans of paint out of a store. He is hit and sent sprawling on the sidewalk by one of the runners, a heavyset foreign man, who collapses in his arms, evidently having been shot at least three times by the police. The dying man, an American, whispers three words to Poke before he dies.
Poke goes into hiding for fear of his life and warns his wife and child to stay away from Bangkok indefinitely. The Thai police have already questioned him about the dead man, whom the CIA and other unknown people are curious about. Poke uses former spies from Russia and Eastern Europe and former Vietnam veterans, all living in Bangkok, to find out more about a red-haired man who is behind the attempt to link Poke with the dead man in a situation that Poke knows nothing about. The red-haired man is involved in resolving the Muslim insurgency and the "War on Terror" in the south of Thailand.
Help for Poke comes from his half-sister Ming Li, Poke's police friend Arthit, and his savvy neighbor Mrs. Pongsiri, to avoid the Thai police and the red-haired man while he figures out the significance of the three words the dying man whispered to him.
My comments: I read the book twice to get all the nuances of the plot, which was complicated to me as it involves Southeast Asia's past and its present. I read it first noting all the personal relationships that are important in the book - Poke with his wife and teenage daughter; his friend Arthit who carries around the memory of his deceased wife Noi; Arthit's growing relationship with Anna, the friend of his dead wife; Poke's daughter's friendship with a nerdy teen; the red-headed man's relationship with a drug addicted wife and a crazed teenage daughter, and so on.
I read the book again to get the political lowdown of Vietnam in the past and Southern Thailand in the present. The plot catches it all together neatly, while you travel every step of the way with Poke in hiding and Poke detecting, planning, surviving and deducing how to get out of his strange and unwanted situation.
".... But Jesus, Poke. You're supposed to be a travel writer, as far as I know. How does someone like you get this devious?"
"I'm just writing," Poke says. "I got stuck in somebody else's story. All I'm trying to do is write my way out." ( ch. 26, from an uncorrected proof. The final copy may differ.)A great thriller that will draw you in, into the relationships between what will seem like real people, and into a political situation with what will seem like true life villains. The characters are well drawn and realistic, the plot is superb, the thrill of the race is exciting, the setting in flooded Bangkok is exotic and a great place to be, from an armchair.
Thanks to the author for an ARC of The Fear Artist . My objective rating: 5/5.