Select one of the keywords
A Nail Through the Heart    by Timothy Hallinan order for
Nail Through the Heart
by Timothy Hallinan
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In A Nail Through the Heart, Timothy Hallinan (author of the Simeon Grist mysteries) brings us a thriller set in a Thailand still reeling from the deaths and devastation caused by the tsunami in the South. It stars half Irish, half Filipino American expat Poke Rafferty, a travel writer who has settled in Bangkok and gathered to himself the seeds of his own family in former go-go dancer Rose and eight-year-old, sidewalk sparrow (street child) Miaow. Rose has not yet agreed to move in with Poke, but stubbornly maintains her independence as she attempts to establish a cleaning business.

At the request of his police officer friend Arthit (an honest cop in a place where corruption is the norm), Poke helps an Australian woman who's arrived to seek out her missing uncle, Claus Ulrich. Poke discovers that Ulrich's live in maid, Doughnut, has also disappeared. Tracing Doughnut's previous employer leads Poke to Madame Wing, a very vicious and dangerous old woman (think Hannibal Lecter with a sex change). In need of money to process Miaow's adoption, and promote Rose's business, Poke reluctantly takes on a job for Madame. She hires him to find an envelope stolen from a safe dug up in her garden. Madame warns him not to look at the envelope's contents.

Complicating Poke's life further, Miaow insists on his taking in another street child (nicknamed Superman), an incredibly tough and wary boy who was hooked on drugs and has killed to survive. Poke is curious about Superman's background, and very slowly wins his trust, only to lose it at a critical time through carelessness. Hampered by rogue cops, Poke pursues his two investigations to uncover hard porn, extreme child abuse, and Khmer Rouge atrocities. Much of what he finds is unbearable, as he moves through a horrific darkness only mitigated by the light of his love for Rose and Miaow.

Though comparisons with John Burdett's Bangkok books are inevitable, the two series are quite different in style. Burdett's looks at the country from the inside, via Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, while Hallinan takes an outsider's viewpoint - Poke lives in, and tries very hard to conform to, a very different way of looking at the world than he grew up with. In a Note at the back of the book, the author speaks of the terrible realities on which his novel is based, an important reminder that - much as we wish it were - this is not all fiction. I look forward to more Thai adventures for Poke Rafferty and his growing family.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Mystery books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews