Counterfeiting, kidnapping, murder and international intrigue in a tale told with large doses of humor and wit and set in Bangkok, Thailand, Timothy Hallinan’s newest Poke Rafferty novel, The Fourth Watcher, is a suspenseful, fast-paced book you’ll not want to put down. Even the titles of the chapters lend the novel bonus points for the “cool factor”: “Karma Is A Soft Drink,” “Carrots Were The Last Straw,” “He’s More Like Arnold Than He Is Like Me,” and “Not Really the Go-To Guy on Hip-Hop” are just a few examples.
Travel writer Poke Rafferty’s friend, ex-CIA agent Arnold Prettyman, has taught Rafferty some of his “laws of espionage” and trained him to spot anyone who might be spying on him - any “watchers”. The novel opens up with one such test Prettyman is conducting on Poke, to see if Rafferty is getting better at spotting and trying to lose watchers. The laws of espionage mentioned are pretty cool themselves - Prettyman’s First Law of Espionage, for instance, is “Always assume that the other guy is good.” When Poke notices three guys watching and shadowing him, he immediately thinks of Prettyman’s Second Law: “There are usually more than you can spot.”
In general, Poke’s life is one we all would like to have: living in an exotic paradise, with a beautiful Thailand woman (Rose) who agrees to be your wife, and a pretty, intelligent eight-year-old girl (Miaow) you rescued from a life on the streets and have adopted for a daughter. You’re relatively flush with money, the travel-writing business being an apparently well-paying gig. But, as an American overseas, and especially as an American whose father has connections with Chinese triads, the downside is that many diverse and sundry groups of people have you followed and your actions watched 24/7.
When Frank Rafferty, Poke’s father, decides to re-enter his life after having left Poke and his mother (albeit with a house - which his mother burns down - and lots of money) years ago when Poke was a teenager and having ran off to China to live with his first love, Poke is not too thrilled about the entire situation. His life has been going along fairly decently; he hates the fact that his father left him and his mother, and he’d rather his father never have contacted him again. Rose, his live-in girlfriend, says he should get to know his father again, that after all you only have one father. Poke is none too keen to do so, knowing of his father’s manipulative skills and that Frank is too tied up with extremely dangerous criminal elements.
Poke is right to be apprehensive. What had been a perfect sort of life seems to explode in his face, and Poke’s attempts to turn the tables on the people bent on destroying his happiness is makes The Fourth Watcher one of the most unique, complex, and - dare I say it for the third time in a review - cool books I have ever read. There’s an American Secret Service Agent out to get Rose and her friend Peachy for distributing counterfeit money; there’s Chinese triads breathing down Poke’s neck to get him to give up his father; and there’s the evil Chinese triad boss, Colonel Chu, who kidnaps Rose, Miaow, and Noi, the wife of Poke’s policeman friend Arthit, promising to kill them unless Poke gives him the money and rubies Frank stole from him, as well as turning Frank over to him.
You can’t miss The Fourth Watcher if you love thrillers that are suspenseful, extremely witty, and funny. It’s one of those kinds of books that you don’t want to put down until you’re done, you’re sorry when it’s finished, and can’t wait to read further books the author has written and will write in the future. If Timothy Hallinan keeps writing books as good as The Fourth Watcher, he is sure to become one of the most well-known writers of the mystery/thriller genre.