Tuesday, December 24, 2013


A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART by Timothy Hallinan (Harper, 2007)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The first book in Hallinan’s mesmerising and absorbing Poke Rafferty series set in exotic Bangkok sees the expat travel writer, who has always been good at looking for trouble, settling in the city that has stolen his heart. He’s fallen for Bangkok, and is trying to play happy families with former go-go dancer Rose, who he wants to marry, and wary street child Miaow, who he wants to adopt.

However, Poke’s desire to help others keeps tripping him up. First, he takes in Miaow’s friend, highly troubled and potentially dangerous street kid ‘Superman’, than he agrees to search for a distraught Aussie tourist’s missing uncle. All sorts of upheaval ensues, exacerbated when Poke finds himself forced to accept an old woman’s generous payment to find a blackmailing thief: writing offbeat travel guides took Poke off Bangkok’s beaten track, but now he finds himself caught up with some nasty subcultures, corrupt police, degradation, torture, revenge, and sins and ghosts from the past.

A Nail Through the Heart is truly excellent; amongst the very best series debuts I've read in the past decade (and I've read plenty). Why? Well, it's a cracking good yarn laced with captivating prose, an intriguing and strong point of view, pacy storytelling, intriguing characters, thought-provoking themes and events, and a wonderful setting. Hallinan brings Bangkok to vivid life, in all its steamy seediness, transporting the reader brilliantly. Poke is a fascianting leading man, surrounded by a cast of equally well-drawn and depth-filled people. There are plenty of shades of grey - this isn't a black and white world in Bangkok. 

Hallinan cleverly balances the brightness and darkness in this tale. It takes the reader to some uncomfortable places, and touches on some very big, tough issues, but I never felt weighed down or that I was dwelling in the nasty stuff for too long or for the wrong reasons (eg the author doing it for attention-seeking or to provide vicarious 'thrills' to compensate for lesser stories or characters - as some writers, of page and screen, do).

A good test of how good a first book in a series is, is how badly you want to read the next one. When I finished A Nail Through the Heart, I immediately went in search of more. It's a few years old now (great news - there are plenty more in the series to read too), but remains fantastic. Highly, highly recommended. 

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more! I recommend Hallinan's Simeon Grist series, too. They've been around for a few years now but still well worth reading.