My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Poke Rafferty is a half Filipino, half Anglo American living in Bangkok. He is a writer, author of a series of travel books with the title Looking for Trouble in... wherever. This is the second book in Timothy Hallinan's series featuring this character.
Poke has put together a family of himself, his fiancee Rose, who is a former go-go dancer, and his newly adopted daughter Miaow, a former street kid. They live together in his apartment and he is looking forward to marrying Rose and living happily ever after.
His idyllic life in interrupted when the cleaning service co-owned by Rose and another woman becomes involved, through no fault of their own, in a counterfeit money scheme. The women find themselves under investigation by local police and a Secret Service Agent who is there because some of the counterfeit money is American. Poke, of course, jumps in to try to help them and gets on the wrong side of the Secret Service Agent.
So far, the plot seemed pretty straightforward, but then it took a radical twist when the long-estranged father whom he thought was dead turns up and contacts Rafferty. Poke has good reason to hate his father and tries to avoid becoming involved with him. But he is kidnapped and brought to meet the man and finds that involvement is impossible to avoid.
The father, Frank Rafferty, has a box full of rubies and fraudulent identity papers, which it turns out that he stole from one of the most dangerous criminals in China. He also has a daughter Ming-Li, Poke's half sister whom he didn't know he had. Soon we learn that that dangerous criminal is hot on Frank's trail. When a man who was a former C.I.A. asset and an acquaintance of Poke's turns up dead, having been gruesomely murdered, it is clear that the gangster will spare no effort to find and recover the items stolen from him and if that means a few more people have to die along the way, he's okay with that.
The plot gets more and more complicated as we learn that the counterfeit money is coming from an operation in North Korea. The repressive regime that runs that country like a Soprano's family business is utterly ruthless in pushing its main export of counterfeit bills.
The Chinese gangster, meanwhile, is determined to get Frank Rafferty and, in pursuit of that aim, he kidnaps Rose, Miaow, and Poke's friend Arthit's wife, Noi. In order to try to recover them, Poke and Arthit, a Bangkok policeman, must use every skill and every asset available to them.
Everything gets very complicated at this point - a little too complicated, actually. Hallinan seems to be straining a bit to keep all of these balls in the air. Perhaps if he could have brought himself to pare down some of the elements, he would have had a better-structured, cleaner story.
Still, Hallinan is very good at creating an atmosphere and he brings to life the streets of Bangkok in a very believable way. I've never been there, unfortunately, but he gives us a real feel for the city and its people and especially its climate of frequent rain and hot and humid weather. One can almost feel the rain running down one's back.
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