The Hot Countries
by Tim Hallinan
2015/ 336 pages
read by Victor Bovine – 10h 3m
raitng – / literary crime
(#7 in the Poke Rafferty series)
This is the third of a little trilogy internal to the series as a whole so the the tale just seems to go right on in Bangkok and the life of Poke Rafferty, travel writer and now family man living in Bangkok, moves right along with it. The last three Poke Rafferty novels are really meant to be a trilogy of sorts – this is the culmination of the bunch. I suppose they can be read as stand-alones, but I didn’t do it that way.
If you’re interested, the first novel in the series is The Fear Artist and the second is For the Dead and they’re both excellent. The title for this book works just as well as the others – “Hot” can have several meanings.
In the prior book, For the Dead, Poke’s ex-bar dancer wife, Rose, is pregnant and now, a few weeks later, she still is. Meanwhile Miaow , their now 13-year old daughter who was adopted from the streets, is peforming in a play at school. Poke is, well, poking around looking for something to write about but still concerned about some old issues from the prior book, as well as some new ones. In the course of this activity someone usually dies or gets in serious trouble and Poke ends up solving the crime and catching or killing bad guys .
He does this with the very quiet help of his good buddy Artid, a detective on the Bangkok police force. Also in that prior book a girl named Treasure was saved from a burning building – she’s now living in a children’s home and very safe – or supposed to be. Treasure is beautiful but handicapped by trauma at the hands of her now deceased father – a wonderfully well-developed character and I’m reminded of something from Dickens with these street kids in the home and elsewhere.
The book opens in a bar called the Expat Bar in downtown Bangkok where Poke goes regularly because the now aging regulars were very kind to him when he was new to the area. They go to drink and harass each other- spend the evenings. Poke realizes what a sorry bunch they have become over the years – Wallace, a fairly major character in the novel, is almost senile and things can get his mind off track – back to his Vietnam days where too many people died, or back to Yah, the Thai bar-girl, the love of Wallace’s whole life. But these old curmudgeons have valuable information from their years in the city, very helpful information, good ideas. And they’re friends – very good friends. “We all need friends at times. Doesn’t much matter who they are.”
Anyway, one day a guy named Varney shows up at the Expat Bar. He wants money (of course) and something or someone else. Poke is on alert – he has quite a lot of money due to the end of the prior book and is hiding someone. The game is on –
Hallinan has a very nice literary aspect to his writing, but he never loses sight of the main plot and the tension and somewhat gritty scenarios his readers expect. He uses lovely and evocative language in the descriptions of Bangkok , especially of the rain. The basic, perhaps universal human qualities of some of his characters also puts this book into the literary category – the aging Wallace, for instance, or terrified Treasure and many others. And between the old farts in the bar and the street urchins, he gets the human spirit just right.