Tuesday, August 18, 2009


In the third installment of Tim Hallinan's Poke Rafferty series, BREATHING WATER finds Poke in a rather peculiar predicament. In a poker game, he wins the right to author Khun Pan's biography. People have clamored for this biography since Khun Pan did what virtually no one else has in Thailand, rose from the ranks of dirt poor to grotesquely wealthy. Pan takes pride in offending the other members of the wealthy class, and there are rumors he will run for office. This obviously is not a good combination. So, when word gets out that Poke is going to write his biography, Poke is threatened. If he writes the biography, one side has threatened to kill his family. If he doesn't write the biography, another side has threatened to kill his family. And everyone is watching him to see that he's doing exactly what they want. He's literally stuck in a "damned if you do; damned if you don't" situation. Poke needs to hold off both sides until he can figure out just exactly what it is he WILL do because:

"Both directions are wrong, but one must be less wrong than the other"

BREATHING WATER is the quintessential story of the haves versus the have nots. The most obvious level of this theme is found in the rich versus the poor. But Hallinan takes the theme to another level with Poke's family and Arthit's family, illustrating to the reader that money is not the only factor that creates divisions of haves and have nots.

Hallinan never fails to deliver a plot with plenty of twists and turns; BREATHING WATER is no exception. As is Hallinan's style, one of his strongest plot building devices is unquestionably character development. He builds strong, rich characters whose depth and interactions with each other work to intensify the plot. As a fly on the Rafferty apartment wall, I can't help but connect with Poke as he flounders through his "daddy growing pains." Hallinan's use of humor in many of these situations drives home Poke's feelings of ignorance and helplessness:

" 'I don't know,' Rafferty says, 'This seems like mother territory to me.'

'No problem. I'm just being polite, sharing the problem with you. I've already decided how to deal with it.'

'Yeah? How?'

'I'm going to dye her hair and buy her some whitening cream.'

'The hell you are.'

'As you said, it's mother territory.'

'Well,' he says. Nothing authoritative comes to him. Then he says, 'What are you going to call her?'

'Whatever she wants.'

'Not Harold,' Rafferty says. 'I draw the line at Harold.'

Rose says, 'Children need an authoritative father.'

'So I've done my part?'

'You're everyone's dream father.' "
This small exchange not only builds the three characters concerned, it also functions to build the plot by driving home the relationship between Rafferty and his family. And this exchange emphasizes the book's theme and how it relates to Miaow, Rose, even comically Rafferty himself - as he obviously is in the "have not" classification with authority in this exchange!

But it isn't just Hallinan's protagonist who is so well developed. Khun Pan has gone from "have not" to "have" in terms of money and power. He delights in making the "haves" now feel like the "have nots" whenever he can. Hallinan emphasizes this with rich symbolism throughout the novel. One of my favorite examples of this symbolism is when, just prior to a large fundraiser, Rafferty is leaving Pan's property which has been designed to replicate The Garden of Eden:

"Passing the ramshackle village, he sees the enormous fans that have been placed behind the pen, wafting the scent of merde de cochon toward the Garden of Eden."
Hallinan makes use of every word, every sentence, every paragraph. BREATHING WATER is definitely a tight plot with no fluff and plenty of substance. He doesn't short change the reader in any element of the novel.

As with the previous Poke Rafferty novels, Hallinan also delivers an amazing look at Bangkok. His depiction of the environment and its peoples is breath-taking...even if you are "breathing water!" The streets of Bangkok play an important role in this novel for the young people who live on them. And the reader is pulled onto those streets right along with the homeless children:

"The noise of the street is deafening.

"Everything is in motion, but nothing seems to change: The people flow past, the cars glint cruelly, the sun slams down, the noise hammers her ears. How can the world be this noisy? How can the air smell like this? How can the people who live here endure it?"
If you have not yet discovered the Poke Rafferty/Bangkok Thriller series, it's time to put on a wet suit and start BREATHING WATER. Timothy Hallinan writes a multi-layered, rich, intelligent thriller series that will tickle you to laugh, challenge you to think and buckle you in for an adventurous ride through the darkness of Bangkok.
BREATHING WATER is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0061672231) today from William Morrow.


Corey Wilde August 18, 2009 at 10:41 AM  

Gotta push this guy's work higher in the TBR stack. I think I have one of his Simon Griest novels. Have you read those?

Jen August 18, 2009 at 11:25 AM  

I do have one, Corey...the first one. But I haven't read it yet. Are you going to come to his event in September?

le0pard13 August 18, 2009 at 1:00 PM  

This definitely sounds like a good one, Jen. Thanks.

Bleah Briann August 18, 2009 at 1:14 PM  

Hey, I just found your blog today when looking at some stuff on Ted Dekker. I will be following your blog and checking on often. But I was curious if you knew of a Ted Dekker blog? Thank you very much and God Bless

Jen August 18, 2009 at 2:14 PM  

Bleah Briann - here is a blog that Ted maintains:


Is that what you're looking for?

Tim Hallinan August 18, 2009 at 10:18 PM  

Jen -- How can I thank you for this? What a great surprise on release day. I didn't get the skywriters and the fireworks show at the White House I thought I'd get, but I got this. And this us a great way to let my new little toddler of a book know that it'll be welcomed into the world, at least by some (discerning) people.

Thanks again -- see you in Ohio.


Jen August 19, 2009 at 6:16 AM  


No thanks are necessary at all. I consider it a gift to be able to read crime fiction of this caliber. And I love nothing more than to share the excitement with other people!

Hope you had a great release day and I'll be watching Twitter on Friday in case Linda can tweet your event at The Mystery Bookstore.

See ya in person next month!!

CindyLV October 19, 2009 at 11:33 PM  

Another great review, Jen. And you're right. It is a gift to be able to read such high quality fiction. I just posted my own review on my blog: http://anuncappedpen.wordpress.com

I drove out to southern California to visit Tim at the last stop on his whirlwind tour last week. His love for Thailand and the people of Bangkok just oozes from him. And, as usual, he was his generous and sparkly self, despite being exhausted from touring and writing.

Here's to book four. I have it on good authority that it will be another gem!

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