by Theodore Feit
& Tim Hallinan
Details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of The Hot Countries, along with a link to purchase the book. We also have a fun guest post by Tim on his setting and the writing process.
The Hot Countries By Timothy Hallinan
Reviewed by Theodore Feit
Continuing the story begun in two previous novels and concluding what the author terms an “informal” trilogy, The Hot Countries conveys more information about Poke Rafferty and his way of life in Bangkok than did the previous six books in the series. At the same time, there’s a deeper and more penetrating look into his friends and attitudes. The novel is more serious, without the author’s customary cynical levity. With good reason.
When Poke first came to Thailand to write a travel guide, he fumbled his way around the capital, eventually finding his way to the expat bar where he met an assortment of characters, some of them veterans of the war in Vietnam who taught him his way around town. The group is very close. Now a talkative stranger comes to the bar, seeking out Poke—but, more importantly, the girl Treasure and the money Poke rescued from a burning home in a previous book. Therein lies the plot. Can Poke and his cronies escape from this murderous monster and prevent him from achieving his goals?
This is a first-rate suspense story, written to keep the reader on tenterhooks. As usual, the odors and sights of Bangkok are clearly described so that one can see and smell them as realistically as feeling the continually falling rain—and, especially, the poignant interactions of all the characters.
Indistinguishable from Magic
by Tim Hallinan
One of things that mystifies me most about my writing process is that there are periods of time during the writing of each book when I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going, and yet often the things I write during those times turn out to be essential to the resolution of the story.
When I’m in one of these periods (as I am now), I’m frequently on the edge of panic. I’m gripped by the certainty that it’s finally happened: I’m writing a book I can’t finish. I have no idea why this character, or that story line barged in and took the controls away from me. I’m a passenger in a car I’m supposed to be driving, and the windshield has been blacked out so that I can’t even tell which direction I’m going in.
In spite of the fact that I’ve written more than 20 books, with none tossed out half-written, the panic is always as fresh and urgent as ever. It doesn’t matter when it’s happening, that, on previous books, I’ve always found my way back.
And what happens when I find my way back is at the heart of the mystery. I almost always discover that I’m exactly where I should be. What I’ve written isn’t necessarily the book I set out to write; it’s often a better one. It’s as though I was being guided by someone who had already read the entire unwritten story and knew what it needed even when I, consciously at least, didn’t have the faintest idea.
I think most of us have had the experience, to some degree, of discovering that something we more or less tossed off on page 12, or a character who popped up out of nowhere, or an unplanned plot turn, proved to be—when we got to page 300—the key to the entire book. We wrote it not knowing we’d need it, but when we did need it, it was already there.
I’ve thought for a long time that writing is less like architecture—in which something is built—than it is like archaeology, in which something is uncovered that already exists. On some level, I think that when we begin a book the story is already complete in a perfect or almost-perfect state somewhere in our mind, and the challenge of writing it is actually tugging it free from the subconscious without breaking it or screwing it up.
When you’re writing a series, I’ve discovered, this internal process is even more striking. Things I wrote five and six books ago, characters or events I tossed off just to keep things moving, suddenly present themselves in a new form, having ripened like cheese for a few years. I suddenly see how they’ve affected the events in previous books and that the time has come to bring them front and center.
A very perceptive critic who reviewed my new Poke Rafferty Bangkok thriller, The Hot Countries, said that it seemed to him that I was actually writing a single, enormous story. I agree. I’m writing about three people, a man, a woman, and a little girl, who have unexpectedly been given a last chance at happiness. The “chance” is a manifestly imperfect, improvised family that crosses cultural and racial lines. It requires their continual attention, and they give it.
Like all of us, Rafferty and his do-it-yourself family are affected by their world—in their case, present-day Bangkok. In the first book, A Nail Through the Heart, I invented a little bar full of older guys who had been in Bangkok for 30 and 40 years. I saw them as a convenient source of information and exposition. That’s all I thought they’d ever be. But left on their own, they developed into individuals with widely different life stories that presented themselves in later books. And in The Hot Countries, they’re the only ones on the horizon who have what’s needed: a mental map of the old Bangkok, the Vietnam-War period Bangkok, now buried beneath the skyscrapers.
At a time when Poke needs a hero or even two, they’re where they’ve been for decades, sitting on their stools in the Expat Bar, drinking, telling lies, and getting fat. I began this series in present-day Thailand (I even write it in the present tense), but inevitably, the past will have its way with us. When the past threatens Poke, his Thai wife, Rose, and their adopted daughter, Miaow, the guys at the Expat Bar have the knowledge and, unexpectedly, the heroism he needs.
Did I see this coming when I first wrote them, seven books ago? No. Should I have known that I’d need them in some future book? Yes. From the very beginning did I give them the qualities they’d ultimately need? Yes.
I have no idea how this works. I just know that there’s an essential component of writing that is, to me, indistinguishable from magic. Without it, I’d be lost.
To enter to win a copy of Hot Countries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Countries,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 21, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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