Bangkok travel writer Poke Rafferty finds himself caught up in the whirlwind at the periphery of the War on Terror. He escapes arrest and begins a new life as a fugitive—where questions outnumber answers, betrayal is the new currency, and the only person he can trust is the least trustworthy man he’s ever known. It soon becomes apparent his adversary is a virtuoso artist whose medium is fear.
Macavity- and Edgar-finalist Timothy Hallinan added, “My primary question was what becomes of someone who wanders onto one of the War on Terror’s unmarked battlefields, one who runs the risk of becoming collateral damage—a euphemism for “dead.” The War on Terror is notable for its imprecision. It’s open to argument whether it has killed more innocents than the guilty. This is not what America was supposed to be.”
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY lauded THE FEAR ARTIST as the “heartrending, unforgettable fifth Poke Rafferty thriller (after 2010’s THE QUEEN OF PATPONG).”
In a Starred Review, BOOKLIST said, “THE FEAR ARTIST is simply the best of a fine series of thrillers…”
Regarding the pleasure of writing, Hallinan said, “The most satisfying scene to write was the final confrontation between Poke and the titular ‘fear artist,’ a former CIA operative and Vietnam vet named Haskell Murphy. In addition to its being a personal collision from which only one of them can emerge alive, it’s also a collision of fundamental values and world views. Poke is essentially an idealist and a political neophyte, and Murphy is a much-experienced pragmatist who sees America losing its position in the world because war has been gentrified and (from his perspective) over-reported. Since the Vietnam era, he believes ‘there’s no such thing as a civilian population anymore.’ I’ve always been leery of the big climactic scene in which the killer explains everything that’s happened, but in this case, the only thing he explains is who he is.”
The story changed immensely as Hallinan wrote. “I work with no outline and essentially follow the characters from place to place, writing down what they do and say. The flooding of Bangkok—the worst in sixty years—took place as I wrote, and that seemed to be a natural metaphor for the War on Terror.
“I learned about Thailand’s own War on Terror, the effort to deal with a Muslim insurgency in the south that’s killed thousands of Thai Buddhists in the past five years, and in which the United States lend a hand. I came across the Phoenix Program, a CIA-coordinated campaign of organized assassination during the Vietnam War in which we essentially killed 1,800 people a month on ‘snatch and snuff’ missions. After September 11, the Pentagon put together a plan for battling terrorists, and the Phoenix Program is part of it, so Murphy became a veteran of the Phoenix Program.”
Raymond Chandler inspired Hallinan. “Chandler makes the impossible look easy. It’s not until one is a very much better writer that one realizes just how good Chandler actually is.”
The thriller author has advice for aspiring writers. “Finish. Even if the book dies on you, push it through to the end. Almost no first novel is any good, but it’s impossible to write a second novel until you finish the first. I’m in the final stages of editing an eBook that’s intended to help aspiring writers finish. It’s about how writers plot, and features essays and question-and-answer sessions with 21 very good writers. The title is MAKING STORY: TWENTY-ONE WRITERS ON HOW THEY PLOT. It should be available on Amazon this summer.”
Hallinan said of the mechanics of writing, “I start with an idea—a basic situation, a couple of questions, and some characters—and just write until I get to the end. Then I cheat by going back and rewrite huge chunks of it to make it look like I knew what I was doing all along.” He added, “Reading has helped me most with my career. Each time I read a good book (and even some bad ones) I see how a writer handled something that I don’t know how to—or how they handled it better than I do. Reading is learning.
“I’m a series guy,” says Hallinan. “I’ve written three series, but I’m fooling with two standalones now, and it’s kind of nice to be free of all that character backstory. When you write series, you have this large cast of secondary characters who are sort of standing in the wings, shuffling from foot to foot and waiting to hear a cue. In a standalone, everyone comes fresh to the slaughter, so to speak.”
As for electronic publishing, Hallinan says, “I love eBooks. I put all six books in my first series, from the 1990s, online last year, and it’s producing a very tidy monthly income. And I wrote an entirely new series, the Junior Bender books, specifically as eBooks (CRASHED, and LITTLE ELVISES, and forthcoming THE FAME THIEF).
“What I love most about eBooks is that they free us from publishers’ scheduling demands and expectations. I can write several books a year, so why should I be limited to publishing only one? And why should I let a publisher say, This isn’t what the public expects from you? Most have no idea I’m alive, so let the book sink or float on its own merit. It’s amazingly liberating.”
Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar finalist and Macavity-nominated author of the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers, including THE FEAR ARTIST. He has introduced the Junior Bender comic thrillers. His six Simeon Grist P.I. mysteries written in the 1990s are now a cult favorite. Hallinan also edited SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN, a short-story collection from which 100 percent of all proceeds went for tsunami relief. He’s about to release the eBook MAKING STORY: TWENTY-ONE WRITERS ON HOW THEY PLOT. He is married to Munyin Choy-Hallinan. They share life in Los Angeles and Bangkok.
To learn more about Timothy, please visit his website.