A Nail Through the Heart is a crime thriller set in the exotic underworld of the government authorized entertainment zones in Bangkok Thailand. In these zones explicit sex shows are legal as is the sale of all types pornographic materials.
Patpong Road is one of oldest and best known of the entertainment zones; prostitutes work the seamy nightclubs and dance in the live sex shows while street children run in gangs through the dark side alleys. Danger lurks in these surroundings—prostitutes must be very wary and careful when they select customers and the street children must avoid pimps and other unsavory characters in the overheated sexual atmosphere.
Patpong Road is also home to ex pat Poke Rafferty the protagonist of this new series by experienced crime writer Timothy Hallinan. Poke used to be a regular customer in the bars but lately he has reformed his ways and is planning to settle down and raise a family. He wants to marry a refomed Patpong bargirl and dancer named Rose and adopt a precocious 10-year-old street orphan named Miaow, but this requires money and Poke is broke.
Poke is living on his meager royalties as a travel writer— he is the author of the Looking for Trouble books (Looking for Trouble in Indonesia, Looking for Trouble in the Philippines, and Looking for Trouble in Thailand). These books are the Rough Guides to places that the cruise ship concierges don’t talk about. Poke’s knowledge of the rough side of Bangkok gives him an advantage in finding the occasional missing person to augment his meager book royalties.
This story begins when an honest Thai cop named Arthit recommends Poke to a foreigner Clarrissa Ulrich who is trying to find her uncle Claus who has gone missing. As Poke begins his search he uncovers the rough, ugly side of the missing Claus and becomes entangled in murder, extortion (by some very rough cops), an international pedofile ring and a murderous survivor of the Cambodian Khymer Rough killing fields.
The author builds his story story from this unlikely mix without being overly graphic and without wandering too far afield. The action always moves forward but the characters, even the bad guys, are developed. We see Poke develop a new understanding of what it means to be Thai as he develops his relationship with Rose and Miaow. Finally, as the author wraps up the story, the innocent victims are allowed to achieve some sort of satisfaction if not revenge. Of course, Poke survives all the challenges and at the end is ready for his next adventure.
This novel is a fast paced adventure with interesting and unusual characters, the subject matter is unsetting at times, but always treated carefully by the author and not exploited for its shock value. I look forward to reading more about Poke, Rose and Miaow.
Day 34: A Nail Through the Heart (Timothy Halllinan) (2007).