A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART – Timothy Hallinan

Another chance to meet Poke Rafferty for the first time –

Posted on June 28, 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 THROUGH 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.

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