Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Hallinan

Protagonist: Poke Rafferty
Setting: Bangkok
Rating: 5.0

Poke Rafferty is not a private investigator. He's a travel writer who has written a "Looking for Trouble" series, mainly for men (on everything from how to bribe a cop to where the best bars are). So it's not surprising that trouble is what he finds when Rafferty takes on a P.I. job for an Australian woman, agreeing to search for her missing uncle. The man's live-in housekeeper is also gone, and this leads Rafferty to a rich, domineering woman. She, in turns, throws a lot of money at Rafferty so he can find someone else -- a man who has stolen from her.

What started as a simple investigation eventually leads Rafferty into the dark world of child pornography and a dark period in Cambodia's history, when the Khmer Rouge tortured thousands. This could have been a very bleak story, but it is just the opposite, balanced by Rafferty's personal life.

In this, the first book in the series, we meet Rafferty's girlfriend Rose, a former bar girl/prostitute who is trying to start her own cleaning business, and the street orphan Rafferty hopes to adopt, spunky 8-year-old Miaow. For a while, another street urchin, the troubled Superman, also makes an appearance in their lives.

While the different elements might not seem appealing -- child porn, a prostitute-turned girlfriend, street children with strange names -- it all works somehow. And it works wonderfully. Hallinan is a gifted writer, and his series is one I will definitely continue.

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