Breathing Water Review
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In author Timothy Hallinan’s first two Bangkok thrillers—A Nail Through the Heart and The Fourth Watcher—American expat Poke Rafferty often found himself exploring the city’s seedy bars and dark alleys, trailing thieves, counterfeiters, and street urchins. But now, in his third adventure, Breathing Water, Rafferty finds himself in a completely different world as he attempts to exhume the deep, dark secrets of one of Bangkok’s wealthiest men.

While helping his friend Arthit with a police operation, Rafferty gets involved in a high-stakes poker game with the mysterious Khun Pan. Rafferty wins big—but instead of bringing thousands of baht back to his wife, Rose, and his adopted daughter, Miaow, he wins permission to write Pan’s controversial biography.

  
 
According to Balzac, “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime”—and Rafferty is determined to uncover Pan’s great crime. It’s the only way to explain how a poor man from a tiny village could become one of Bangkok’s wealthiest and most powerful businessmen.

But then the threats start coming. First, there are the calls from someone who wants to make sure that Pan’s biography doesn’t get written. Then Rafferty is kidnapped by someone who wants to make sure it is written. The man supplies Rafferty with a list of contacts and assigns a team of thugs to watch Rafferty, Rose, and Miaow, to make sure he’s doing as he’s told.

No matter what he chooses to do, Rafferty and his family are in danger.

In Breathing Water, Hallinan once again brings the streets of Bangkok to life through vivid depiction and careful characterizations. His descriptions are so detailed and so striking that you’ll feel that you’re there. You’ll see the flashing lights, hear the noise of the traffic, smell the curries in the markets.

As he did in his previous novels, Hallinan guides his readers through the dark, dirty alleyways and vacant buildings—but he also shows a different side of Bangkok: the palatial estates and posh office buildings. This time, the story isn’t just about the petty crooks and the kids who live on the streets (though they definitely play an important part in the story). It’s also about the wealthy men who control the country—and who will stop at nothing to stay in control.

It’s clear that Hallinan loves playing with dichotomies and contradictions. He loves to explore both the good and the bad in his characters. His politicians and businessmen—even his cops and crooks—are never quite as they seem. And Breathing Water is once again filled with grey areas. Pan is another fascinating character—a ridiculously wealthy businessman who loves to flaunt his wealth (and his poor upbringing) to Bangkok’s upper crust. He’s a shady character, but the poor admire him for his successes—and for his apparent outreach to the city’s poor and sick. His quirks and contradictions make Pan a mesmerizing mystery—and you’ll eagerly follow along with Rafferty as he searches for answers.

At the same time, though, you’ll have to pay close attention as you read—because Breathing Water is even more complex than the other books in the series. Several different characters (and their hired thugs) get involved in the action, and all of those players (and their politics…and their histories) tend to get a bit confusing at times.

Breathing Water certainly isn’t a simple read—but it’s a satisfying crime thriller, filled with mysteries and contradictions. If you’ve read the others in the series, you’re in for another treat. If you’re new to the series, don’t miss it. Just be sure to start with A Nail Through the Heart—because you’ll understand the characters and their stories more fully if you’ve been following them since the beginning.

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