breathing-water-cover.jpg  In Breathing Water, the  third book of the series featuring ex-pat writer Poke Rafferty, the reader is treated to a visit to Bangkok to witness the delicate intricacies of the social and political system of Thailand, not always a pretty sight.

The story begins when Rafferty wins a most unusual prize in a late-night poker game – the chance to write the biography of Khun Pan, one of the richest men in the country who has a criminal past and a deadly secret.  Pan is vulgar and pretentious, spending millions on his “Garden of Eden” complete with a gold serpent, within his home compound where he lives large and lavishly.

Pan is loathed by many, especially those in power who are threatened by his political ambitions. But Pan is also loved by many others because he pulled himself out of poverty to become a very powerful man who has supported causes that help the poor.  Rafferty’s wife, Rose, is a great admirer of Pan and believes that he could initiate great social change if he achieves a political position.

Soon after the poker game, Rafferty is contacted by opposing forces. One pays him thousands of baht to write the book, the other warns him off, threatening his wife and their adopted daughter, Miaow. Soon they are all caught up in a web of intrigue that includes street kids, stolen babies, corruption, and murder.

One of the thrills of reading a book set in another country is the opportunity to get a feel for the place and the people, and Hallinan gives us Bangkok in all its splendor and its squalor. He also introduces characters so real they could step out of the book and join us for coffee.

This is a book that can be enjoyed on many levels. The mystery, danger, and intrigue satisfy the lover of mystery and thriller, while the relationships give the story depth. Especially nice is the relationship between Rafferty and Arthit, one of the few honest cops in Bangkok. It is portrayed not in sweet sentimentality, but with enough emotion to make you pause a moment to readjust your heart.

Timothy Hallinan has lived, on and off, in Southeast Asia for more than 25 years.  His previous Poke Rafferty books are: A Nail Through the Heart and The Fourth Watcher. He has also written a nonfiction book on Charles Dickens.  For years he has taught a course on “Finishing the Novel” with remarkable results – more than half his students complete their first novel and go on to a second, and several have been, or are about to be, published. Tim currently maintains a house in Santa Monica, California, and apartments in Bangkok, Thailand; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He considers himself lucky enough to be married to Munyin Choy-Hallinan.

Breathing Water
•  Hardcover: 352 pages
•  Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (August 18, 2009)
•  Language: English
•  ISBN-10: 0061672238
•  ISBN-13: 978-0061672231
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Maryann Miller — Maryann’s Web site

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