The Fear Artist By Timothy Hallinan
In a matter of hours, Poke Rafferty’s comfortable life as a successful travel writer living in Bangkok, Thailand is turned upside down and then inside out as a stranger dies in his arms, whispering three last words as his life slips away. Thai secret police officers haul Rafferty in for questioning yet at the same time denying the dying man was shot, waving away the still wet blood on Rafferty’s shirt as having no significance. When a mysterious and murderous American with ties to the CIA enters the picture, Rafferty decides it’s high time to lay low. And so the deadly game of hunter and hunted begins.
Rafferty uses his knowledge of the back lanes and shoddy neighborhoods of Bangkok to his advantage, blending as best he can into anonymity. At the same time, he reaches out to his contacts within the shadowy world of ex- pat, retired spies of dubious trust and purchased loyalty to find out who wants him dead and why. What Rafferty discovers is that his adversary is an artist in fear, a man whose brutality is legendary and a person no one is willing to cross.
Bangkok too, is under siege as relentless rains threaten to flood the city. The torrential downpours provide a backdrop to the story and a cover for both Rafferty and those who pursue him. Indeed, the city is itself a character in this story and Hallinan paints a personal, passionate portrait, illustrating Bangkok’s many colors, tones, and shades.
A tale of risk and danger begs the same in its writing and Hallinan delivers by giving us a tale told with crispness, poetry, humor, and pathos, all presented in present tense, itself a narrative form dangerous for the writer, but in this case, delivered well and one that increases the immediacy of its telling.
Reviewed by Andrew MacRae, author of “Murder Misdirected” for Suspense Magazine