The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan

Another Poke Rafferty mystery is always a welcome event and The Fear Artist was no exception. As you might have guessed by the title, this volume is a little darker. It is also a little more political – not in the partisan sense per se but in the worldview sense. It has a strong message that the war on terror has gone too far and allowed America to lose track of, or ignore, its ideals. But this message, whether you agree with it or not, does not overwhelm the story.

Publishers blurb:

An accidental collision on a Bangkok sidewalk goes very wrong when the man who ran into Rafferty dies in his arms, but not before saying three words: Helen Eckersley. Cheyenne. Seconds later, the police arrive, denying that the man was shot. That night, Rafferty is interrogated by Thai secret agents who demand to know what the dead man said, but Rafferty can’t remember. When he’s finally released, Rafferty arrives home to find that his apartment has been ransacked. In the days that follow, he realizes he’s under surveillance. The second time men in uniform show up at his door, he manages to escape the building and begins a new life as a fugitive. As he learns more about his situation, it becomes apparent that he’s been caught on the margins of the war on terror, and that his opponent is a virtuoso artist whose medium is fear.

Hallinan once again weaves a great story and continues to flush out these great characters (Poke, Rose, Miaow, etc.).
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The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan

Another Poke Rafferty mystery is always a welcome event and The Fear Artist was no exception. As you might have guessed by the title, this volume is a little darker. It is also a little more political – not in the partisan sense per se but in the worldview sense. It has a strong message that the war on terror has gone too far and allowed America to lose track of, or ignore, its ideals. But this message, whether you agree with it or not, does not overwhelm the story.

Publishers blurb:

An accidental collision on a Bangkok sidewalk goes very wrong when the man who ran into Rafferty dies in his arms, but not before saying three words: Helen Eckersley. Cheyenne. Seconds later, the police arrive, denying that the man was shot. That night, Rafferty is interrogated by Thai secret agents who demand to know what the dead man said, but Rafferty can’t remember. When he’s finally released, Rafferty arrives home to find that his apartment has been ransacked. In the days that follow, he realizes he’s under surveillance. The second time men in uniform show up at his door, he manages to escape the building and begins a new life as a fugitive. As he learns more about his situation, it becomes apparent that he’s been caught on the margins of the war on terror, and that his opponent is a virtuoso artist whose medium is fear.

Hallinan once again weaves a great story and continues to flush out these great characters (Poke, Rose, Miaow, etc.).
Continue reading

Olen Steinhauer on An American Spy and Post 9/11 Spy Fiction

Great timing for this weeks Coffee & Markets podcast. Pejman Yousefzadeh and I were  joined by one of my favorite authors, Olen Steinhauer.  We discussed his just released novel An American Spy, the post-Cold War and post 9/11 spy novel, and his career as a writer while living outside the United States.

Listen here.

An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer

With An American Spy Olen Steinhauer continues to explore both the mechanics of spy craft and the moral tension inherent in the trade using Milo Weaver as his lens. With this third volume in the series, Weaver is no longer a Tourist but can’t escape the gravity of the agency’s destruction.

What from so many angles seems like violence and betrayal fueled by mere revenge turns out to be each side attempting to turn constantly shifting events to their advantage. Steinhauer plays the story out giving the reader the perspective of a number of characters from Weaver to his former boss Alan Drummond to Chinese spymaster Xin Zhu. But just when you think you are starting to put the pieces together he shuffles the deck and you have re-evaluate your assumptions.

There is an underlying tension in espionage – and thus in spy fiction – in that at root it is the search for truth and yet in pursuing that elusive truth, truth itself – or at least honesty and veracity – are the first causality (cliché perhaps but accurate I think).  An American Spy mirrors this and in fact forces the reader to wrestle with it and “live” in this type of world. You find yourself constantly trying to understand the strategy and motivations of each side while guessing their next steps – in other words, thinking like a spy.  What also becomes clear is how the nature of the trade undermines trust and casts doubt on everything.

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