Tim Hallinan. Readers of his Poke Rafferty series actually "need" this book ASAP, because the little family that Poke Rafferty loves and protects in corrupt and dangerous Bangkok has bonded to readers' hearts. How is Poke's pregnant wife doing? And the couple's brilliant bu wounded adopted-street-child daughter Miaow? What about Miaow's friends, whom we've also become attached to, seeing them through the half-incredulous amazement that Poke feels as he comes to appreciate, love, and yes, try to rescue them?
But if you're a stranger to this series, here are some other reasons: A chance to "see" Bangkok in its heartbreaking complexity (instead o of laughing at the pain the way John Burdett's books do). A willingness to meet and care about complex characters in the midst of very human and very dangerous stresses. Eagerness to see how a skilled author who can blend suspense and attachment on a single palette will craft the necessary (and terrifying) twists of a page-turner.
Poke's attention is mostly on his pregnant wife right now -- the couple hadn't expected to add a child to the already complicated and tender household they've formed. So it takes sserious persuasion from Miaow to have him look into the disappearance of the dad of Miaow's almost-boyfriend Edward. Once Poke tunes in to the crisis, he's quick to see a pattern -- one that means Edward's dad has a very short life ahead of him, if indeed he's still alive somewhere in the crowded city.
Don't worry about the title, FOOLS' RIVER. It's almost irrelevant, part of a different layer of suspense. Attention belongs most of all with Poke in his urgent search for the totally immoral scam artists and killers who have Edward's dad. And with the power of a 48-hour deadline, Hallinan packs the action and danger, page after page.
Don't try to do anything else. This is what a truly fine thriller is for: to let you, force you, to ignore the rest of your life and accept that all the love that needs saving, all the life that matters, is in the next chapter. Yes, the book really just covers 48 hours -- so hang in there for the next in the series. [Too bad the author and publisher, Soho, can only produce one per year ... but this year at least, there's an extra helping of Hallinan's Bangkok adventures in a compact and haunting tale included in Soho's holiday special, The Usual Santas, about two Bangkok street kids with a significant set of discoveries at the holiday season. I can't get it out of my thoughts ... or do I men, heart?]
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.