If Timothy Hallinan wrote only his masterful Bankok thrillers, he would still be one of the top crime fiction writers working today. Add to that his laugh-out-loud Junior Bender mysteries and his traditional PI novels, and you have a guy who can write pretty much anything and knock it out of the park.
I discovered Timothy Hallinan when I noticed one of his books in the bargain bin at my local Barnes & Noble (sorry, Tim). The cover caught my eye, and the title–A Nail Through the Heart–piqued my interest. Then I saw the author’s name.
I’d just read a post on the DorothyL newslist by a guy named Timothy Hallinan. It was articulate and insightful, and I remembered thinking at the time, I like the way way this guy thinks. So I picked it up and read the first page and fell in love with Poke Rafferty, the “rough travel writer” who came to Bangkok and discovered he had what the Asians call “a yellow heart.” From the very beginning, he was home.
Poke is a bundle of contradictions–a gentle man who is ruthless when he has to be; a smart, thoughtful man with a foolhardy, impulsive streak; a man with a wounded heart who helps heal the hearts of others. He’s interesting, complex, and very very real. I followed Poke and his cobbled-together family for five more books, each time thinking This is it. No way he can top this one. But somehow he always did. And in his latest, Poke Rafferty number seven, he’s topped himself again.
The Hot Countries is a literary thriller and one of the richest and most touching novels it’s been my pleasure to read. More than once, I found myself wiping tears from my eyes. From the sensitivity with which he handles an aging ex-pat with dementia to his compassionate portrayal of traumatized street children, every note is pitch-perfect. You can read my review of the book here, but suffice it to say that nobody writes about redemption and grace like Hallinan.
The thing is, everything this guy writes is terrific. His first series, featuring PI Simeon Grist, proves he burst straight out of the box writing like a pro. His Junior Bender series makes me laugh out loud. Once, he gave himself a challenge to write a blog post every day for a year, and darned if they weren’t brilliant too. (This one, about a handpainted sombrero his mother made for a school play, still makes me laugh when I think about it.)
The only consolation, when I look at guys like Timothy Hallinan and William Kent Krueger and think I’ll never in a million years be that good, is that they seem to have those same insecurities. For you all you aspiring writers out there, take some comfort in this blog post Hallinan wrote back in 2014.
I realize I’ve been pretty effusive. Maybe I should tone it down a notch. On the other hand, maybe not. If you can’t rave about an author you love on a blog about authors you love, what’s the point? So here’s the takeaway. If you’ve read any of Timothy Hallinan’s work, please take a minute to share your thoughts in the comments. And if you haven’t read him, do yourself a favor and start now.