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.
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.).
In addition to the central story of how Poke gets caught up in the middle of a dark corner of the war on terror, and runs into a monster with a past stretching back to Vietnam, there are side stories dealing with having an adolescent daughter, Poke’s continued effort to help people caught up in the sex trafficking, and his relationship with his friend Arthit.
I will admit that one aspect of the story seemed kinda forced and a even a little weird at times. I think Hallinan was drawing a connection between the psychopathic behavior of the Fear Artist of the title and the real life consequences of those actions not just on his victims but on the people he claimed to care about. And it worked in many ways, but one relationship was unique enough that it seemed different and I am not sure it fully worked.
As with the earlier books, the power of Poke’s love for his family (including his half sister) is a constant theme, but the overall tone of this story is one of sadness and frustration with the violence and darkness that seems to dominate the world.
Another enjoyable mystery/thriller in one of my favorite series but certainly not a lighthearted story by any means.