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by Timothy Hallinan
Soho, November 2014
345 pages
ISBN: 1616951141

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If you ever need to argue that crime fiction can engage social issues, delve into human relationships, provide vividly real settings, and be as attentive to the power and grace of language as literary fiction, bring Poke Rafferty with you as an expert witness. Timothy Hallinan's series about a mixed-race American travel writer who has settled in Bangkok with a bespoke family, starting with A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART (2007), combines thriller elements (seriously dangerous bad guys, heroic good guys, and heart-in-your-mouth action scenes) with unusual tenderness that teeters on the edge, but avoids, toppling into mere sentimentality.

Poke's family is the center of his life (and of these stories). His wife, Rose runs a cleaning business, hiring women who, like her, are refugees from the sex trade. Together they have raised Miaow, who spent her early years as one of the many street children in the beautiful and terrible city. If people who proclaim the importance of "family values" had Rafferty's family and the way they care for one another in mind, the world would be a better place.

Though the first five volumes in the series could be read in any order (though it would scramble the arc of the family story that is perhaps its most compelling element), this sixth volume picks up and builds on the conclusion of THE FEAR ARTIST. Poke has plenty of money now, so much so that it's hard to know where to put it all, as depositing it in a bank would raise questions and require greasing palms. But all is not well. His adolescent daughter is moody and alienated. It could be simply a phase. Or it could be that distancing herself from the dirty, feral child she was by maintaining a fictional identity among her peers is becoming too great a strain.

When she helps her nerdy boyfriend, who is terrified of his strict father, replace a lost iPhone by buying one on the black market, they discover some photos have not been thoroughly deleted. Soon the pair realize someone wants them and anyone who knows about the photos deleted permanently. That's when the buried memories she has of the alleys and hidden passageways of Bangkok and the survival instincts she left behind resurface, along with the visceral knowledge of what it's like to be hungry, frightened, and alone. As Miaow and her boyfriend dodge danger, Poke and his old friend Arthit, the only honest cop in the city, try to untangle the web of corruption tied to the iPhone photos. And, woven into the narrative, some resourceful street children find yet another feral girl, one whose brutal training wasn't on the streets but who may be too far gone to save.

Readers who haven't discovered this excellent series should give it a shot. Even those who aren't series purists may want to read them all in order. In some series, it takes a book or two to find its voice. In this case, the quality is sterling all the way through and FOR THE DEAD is no exception.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, November 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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