A dead man who crumples onto his lap pulls travel writer Poke Rafferty once more down into Bangkok’s dank underbelly.
In an uncharacteristic burst of domestic energy, Rafferty is just emerging from a store, lugging cans of paint destined for the walls of the apartment he shares with his wife, Rose, and their adopted daughter, Miaow, when he collides first with a crowd of pedestrians streaming down the road, then with an American gent who collapses on top of him, recovers just enough to say, “Helen Eckersley. Cheyenne,” and dies. Police deny that the American was shot, ascribe the copious blood on the scene to a nosebleed, and take Rafferty in. Questioned by the distinctly hostile Maj. Shen, Rafferty inconveniently forgets the name the dying American was at such pains to get out. It’s a costly gap in his story, one that brings down the wrath of Shen and sends police to ransack his place and frame him for the murder of a stranger whose name he still doesn’t know. Forced to send Rose and Miaow into hiding and to go on the run himself in the city he’s made his home, Rafferty gets help from his friends Arthit, a recently widowed police officer, and Dr. Ratt, who hides him from official scrutiny in a truly ingenious way. But in order to get the goods on Haskell Murphy, the ex-soldier he’s convinced is behind the murder, Rafferty will have to deal with the world’s most untrustworthy trio of spies, delve into a particularly ugly chapter in the Vietnam War and take some hellacious chances with his personal safety.
As usual (The Queen of Patpong, 2010, etc.), the real star of the show is the hero’s hometown. As Rafferty observes, “Bangkok may not be glamorous…but it’s got lurid down cold.”