If you like a novel in an exotic setting with an affable, affecting, imperfect hero, spend some hours with A Nail Trhough the Heart. Author Hallinan has divided his time between California and southeast Asia for the past 20 years, thus his descriptions of Bangkok are vividly drawn, alive with authentic sights and sounds. His knowledge of the Thai people and respect for their culture ring throughout, which invites the reader to share his affection for this land.
As Hallinan has said there is a saying in Thailand, "gilding the Buddha's back." Temples throughout Thailand have large statues of Buddha covered in gold leaf. Purchased in small squares by believers, this gold leaf is pressed on the statue until it appears to be entirely covered in gold. If you look at the back of the statue, you will see that the back of it is as richly ornamented as the front. Gilding the Buddha's back means doing good in private, where it will not be noticed. Isn't that a moving thought? And, after relating this saying and its provenance Hallinan said that in treating Thai culture carefully in his book he hoped that he had in some small way gilded the Buddha's back. He has, indeed.
Our imperfect hero is Poke Rafferty, a travel writer, who has gone to Bangkok to write. He's penned a series of travel related pieces titled Looking for Trouble. Bangkok is where trouble finds him in the form of Rose, a former go-go girl with whom he falls in love, Miaow, an eight-year-old orphan who lived on the streets, and her friend, a rather frightening skinny street boy with the unlikely nickname of Superman. We learn how harsh life on the streets can be on the young.
It is Poke's hope to marry Rose and adopt Miaow. Problem is that Poke hasn't mastered the art of saying no. So, when a policeman seeks his help in finding a woman's uncle he agrees. This chase leads to a meeting with MadameWing who offers a substantial amount of money if he will help her find someone who stole from her. The money is too tempting - it would enable Poke to help Rose with her business and adopt Miaow.
However, all is not as it seems as Poke finds himself caught in a web of deceit.
Hallinan is an astute author drawing readers in with brilliantly crafted descriptions of places and personalities. As he describes a person's physical appearance, one is also given a glimpse of his or her emotional state. Although he describes Bangkok with respect, he doesn't diminish its darker side. Thus, A Nail Through the Heart is not always an easy read; it is a compelling one.
- Gail Cooke
on August 21, 2010
A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, the first of Timothy Hallinan's Bangkok thrillers, balances family, love, loyalty, and hope against evil that destroys the spirit and sacrifices innocence to perversion.
I read A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART a few years ago. Tim's post, "Behind the Smiles", on the Murder is Everywhere blog, sent me back to the book and I am glad it did. I found things I missed in the first reading and I understand some things better because of what I have learned about Thailand through Tim's posts.
In the blog, Tim writes that Bangkok is the "meat market where the children of the poor, both male and female, go to sell their beauty." The men who use them believe "there has to be something real, something genuine, behind smiles like those. And there are: poverty and powerlessness."
A NAIL IN THE HEART is about family, love, loyalty, hope, and the future but it is also about the debasement of the most innocent of humanity and the evil which kills beauty because there is no need for beauty when power is all that matters. Poke's search for a missing man and his maid leads him to Madame Wing who offers Poke the money he needs to speed along adoption process that will make Miaow, and 8 year-old street child, legally his. The money will help his love, Rose, establish her business. Madame Wing wants Poke to find an envelope but he must not look at the contents. One man did and had to die for doing so. The threads come together in the end to a satisfying, almost, conclusion.
This is a book that the reader won't want to put down. Since I first read it, I have thought, on occasion, of "Growing-Younger Man", the man whose face is so tight Poke wonders how he chews. Why do people try so hard to pretend that they haven't experienced life? Why is youth so envied when it is the young who haven't yet had the time to develop the life-skills that allow us to keep living?
But that is a minor issue compared to what the author is really serving up. Child pornography is financed by the people who buy it. Anyone who does is as guilty as the men who perform the abuse. They do it for the world wide audience who know without question that what they are seeing on the screen isn't pretend. And then there is the ultimate question: When is the taking of a life not a wrong? Are all murderers equally guilty? How should society respond when, as Poke says, "The victims were guilty....and the murderers were innocent?"
Finally, the book reminded me that I haven't told my children enough about the killing fields of Cambodia. As the victims of the holocaust should never be forgotten, neither should the victims of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. We have an obligation to them as well.