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A Nail Through the Heart: A Novel of Bangkok (Poke Rafferty Mystery #1)

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  1,273 Ratings  ·  205 Reviews
Poke Rafferty was writing offbeat travel guides for the young and terminally bored when Bangkok stole his heart. Now the American expat is assembling a new family with Rose, the former go-go dancer he wants to marry, and Miaow, the tiny, streetwise urchin he wants to adopt. But trouble in the guise of good intentions comes calling just when everything is beginning to work ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published June 24th 2008 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published June 26th 2007)
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Will Byrnes
Feb 26, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The tsunami has destroyed much in Thailand. Chon (not his real name) seeks a stolen treasure, Saudi jewels, and shows he is quite willing to kill to continue the quest. Poke Rafferty is a Yank who, having written a few books about how tourists can get what they need in some exotic places, has settled in Bangkok. He lives with Rose, a retired bar-girl who is trying to get her house-cleaning business going, and Miaow, a pre-adolescent street urchin who Rose and Rafferty have taken in. Life grows m ...more
Oct 12, 2010 JoAnn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't usually write reviews here - just list my books and get suggestions. But this book really touched me - right time, place, whatever . . . The main character in Timothy Hallinan's A Nail Through the Heart tells this story to an abused streed kid:

I hate to give advice, so I'll tell you a story instead. It's a Tibetan Buddhist story. A young monk goes to the wisest man he knows, the abbot of his temple, and asks the same question you've just asked: Why is the world so hard and sharp? Why do
Nov 09, 2010 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit--I was worried about reading this book. Worried Thai names and places would be confusing. Worried that the subject matter would be too hard to read. I couldn't have been more wrong, and can't recommend this book more highly.

Mr. Hallinan has crafted a tightly woven story that rings so true. Poke is written so well, I don't think it would be possible to feel his love and worry for Rose or Miaow more. His situation is a tightrope walk, and he does it with grace. Being a westerner in
Remittance Girl
Mar 08, 2012 Remittance Girl rated it it was amazing
Having lived in Southeast Asia for over 12 years, I have to admit to having some trepidation about reading a book about a white guy named 'Poke'.

I shouldn't have worried. Hallinan offers up a marvelous blend of noir thriller, ethnographic study and a complex romance. I can honestly say I was engaged every minute of the 10 hours.

His portrait of Bangkok's seamy underbelly is spot on. And yet he takes the reader through it with enough of a detached eye to focus us on the central mystery. His main c
Sep 24, 2010 Lani rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I need to start by saying that it is a rare occurrence that I give any book 5 stars. I am pretty critical when it comes to characters, details and errors in proofreading. This book truly deserves the rating.

While some readers should be warned of the explicit and sensitive content, the author did a very good job with the storyline but I'm not easily offended. In my opinion, the shock value was needed to put the reader in a mindset the author wants you to be in, in order to love/hate the potential
Jade Lauron
Jan 19, 2014 Jade Lauron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: everyday-fiction
First of four in the Poke Rafferty series. This is my third re-read. I thought about moving it down to four stars from five, because five is usually reserved for books that have changed how I look at the world, and I could no longer remember how this moved or enlightened me. Then I realized that every time I read this book, I'm compelled to a) go to Bangkok, b) take in a stray kid or foster kid, and c) save the world. Even worse, I want to do these things heroically, all at once, all at the same ...more
Aug 25, 2010 PDXReader rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just finished A Nail Through the Heart and absolutely loved it. It has everything that I find important (and sooo hard to find) in a mystery/thriller: It's a page-turner, the writing is great, the characters are believable and written with great depth, the plot makes sense and is for the most part unpredictable. I've already bought the next three books in the series for my iTouch, and bought two dead-tree copies of the first one for friends. I can't wait to start the next one!

However... Anyone
Shorel Kleinert
Aug 30, 2015 Shorel Kleinert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, oyster
"Here [in Thailand] it is possible to behave in ways that one would hide at home."
"It makes you wonder, does it not, what kind of behavior one would hide in Bangkok."

My word. The depravity of man. Want to know where the unbridled pursuit of selfish desire will lead? Read this. I knew in general the conditions of the sex trade, but the level of evil exhibited here boggles the mind. This is a fictional book that portrays the evil of the past (killing fields of the Khmer Rouge) and the evils of th
Nov 18, 2014 Lynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-reads-2014
Many reviews have been written about A Nail Through the Heart. I found it to be a book that held my attention and was hard to put down. Poke Rafferty is an American travel writer who is living in Bangkok Thailand. He has fallen in love with a Rose who was a bar dancer in the Bangkok sex center. She now is working on setting up a house cleaning business. He also has taken under his wing a street child named Miaow who he wants to adopt. Miaow brought into their household a fierce street child boy ...more
Ted Lehmann
Dec 28, 2014 Ted Lehmann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Hallinan fans, detective fiction readers, interested in Thailand
I came across Herbie's Game, the fourth in Timothy Hallinan's Junior Bender series and reviewed it in August. I was attracted to the character, an unusual take on the detective novel in which the protagonist is a “professional” thief who solves problems for others who function outside the law. This was such an interesting take on crime and criminals I decided to keep an eye out for more Hallinan books. Sure enough For the Dead, the most recent in his, so far, more widely known Poke Rafferty seri ...more
A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART is a slam-bang detective thriller set in Bangkok, Thailand. If you like edgy, offbeat mysteries, this one is for you. Hallinan--himself a former Thailand resident--writes with confidence and authority about the country's sprawling sex industry and expatriate subculture. Hallinan resists most detective-thriller conventions and provides readers with conflicted, entirely-believable characters, complicated moral quandaries, ingenious narrative twists, and edge-of-your-seat a ...more
Jun 17, 2011 Shelli rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
This was a complete page-turner! Filled with unpredictable suspense! To the sensitive and easily shocked has it all...the good, the bad and the very very ugly. As with most books of this kind, I feel the shock value was necessary to the story. Of course it isn't always pleasant to read about these things and even believe they really happen, but it does make for interesting and intense reading and a reminder of how lucky we be reading this and not living through it. ...more
Rob Kitchin
The strength of A Nail Through the Heart is the sense of place and contextualisation; Poke Rafferty is a travel writer in Bangkok and, likewise, Hallinan gives a good Western perspective and explanation of the city and culture. The story, however, suffers from a couple of shortcomings: I did not sufficiently believe in the main character, nor in the plot. Poke Rafferty came across as somewhat schizophrenic – hyper-sensitive and caring to the point of being sappy with his adopted family and certa ...more
Max Read
Jan 30, 2013 Max Read rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“A mystery thriller (Looking for Trouble in Thailand)”

Timothy Hallinan is a mystery series writer with three protagonists featured in his novels: Junior Bender, a career burglar, Philip (Poke) Rafferty, a travel writer, and Simeon Grist a detective. While the novels all entail some mystery and detective work the settings are distinctly different and the story lines intriguing and original.
“A Nail Thorough the Heart”, a Poke Rafferty novel, is the second of Hallinan’s works that I have reviewed:
Sep 11, 2010 J.R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thrillers

In the wake of the tragic 2004 tsunami, travel writer Poke is trying to build a new life in Thailand with Rose, a former bar girl, and Miaow, a street child he wants to adopt. As a favor to a Thai policeman friend, Poke agrees to investigate the disappearance of the uncle of an Australian woman. It isn’t long before he discovers the man is a cruel pedophile and not the saint the niece believes him to be.

Complications mount as he takes into his home a boy known as Superman from Miaow’s past, acc
Debbi Mack
Mar 07, 2016 Debbi Mack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-reads
Having previously read BREATHING WATER and QUEEN OF PATPONG, I felt compelled to read A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, not only because Timothy Hallinan did such a great job writing those books, but because I wanted to see how the series started. Boy, do I wish I'd read them in order. (I happened to pick BREATHING WATER first, only because it was being "talked about" so much online at the time.)

Now, I finally know that Poke Rafferty (the intrepid protagonist) is not only a writer, but a writer who made
Jan 23, 2008 Jeffrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Poke Raffrey the hero of this interesting and disturbing tale set in THailand is living with a young asian girl he wants to adopt and sleeping with a retired prostitute who wants to start a maid service. On the lookout for money for to adopt the girl, he finds a job investigating two separate incidents, a stolen set of photos for a reclusive and very nasty old woman and to locate a disappeared uncle for a young woman from Australia. Both cases have unsavory characters and Poke has to delve deepl ...more
Aug 29, 2016 Normalene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This first in the series was written 2007 and the rest of them get better as they go. Poke Rafferty is a travel writer who writes books for bad boys wanting to find adventure and sex and cheap thrills and sex. So he isn't your average milquetoast Walter Mitty. His family life is unusual as he is sleeping with a gorgeous ex-go-go girl and wants to adopt an street orphan and get married and live a normal life. But as usual, something happens and Poke just has to try to make it better. He is a nice ...more
Aug 06, 2016 Michael rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 25, 2014 Richard rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-14
I liked this book, and frankly some of my reservations about it have to do with my expectations. See, I was expecting a traditional mystery in an exotic setting.

What I got is a moving (if conventional) story of a stranger in a strange land. Except for some gory details about the sexual exploitation of children and the torture techniques of the Khmer Rouge, this is a slight but heartwarming crime story that would probably make a really good TV movie. (Actually, that's a little harsh - it could a
Jan 21, 2016 Buffone rated it liked it
A Nail Through the Heart is the first novel in a series, introducing Poke Rafferty, who has set-tled in Bangkok with a former go-go dancer named Rose and an eight-year-old street child named Miaow.
It is the patchwork family setting which sets the Poke series apart from much of the other available Bangkok based fiction. That and the brilliant and funny prose. The book takes place way out on the fringe of the moral landscape and features rough Bangkok street kids, former Khmer Rouge sadists, pede
Phillip "Poke" Rafferty is a half Irish, half Filipino American ex-pat travel writer living in Bangkok. He has a series of travel books called Looking for Trouble in..., as in Looking for Trouble in Shanghai or Looking for Trouble in the Philippines. When he came to look for trouble in Bangkok, he lost his heart and he stayed.

He fell in love with Bangkok, but he also fell in love with Rose, an ex go-go dancer/prostitute, now turned entrepreneur who is trying to set up a cleaning business. But he
Jul 20, 2014 Stan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my fifth book in this series to have read, and I have liked them all. Considering that this is the first of the books published, the characters are remarkably fully realized and immediately engaging. From Rafferty to his ex-prostitute girlfriend Rose to their unofficially adopted street-child Miaow to Rafferty's police contact Arthit, these are all people I look forward to spending time with. In this book, Rafferty works two parallel cases in which victims (of torture in the Cambodian re ...more
Jun 26, 2014 Maylin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, crime, dark
Some very unpleasant subject matter with some very warm hearted characters. It was salutary to be reminded that we live in relative security compared to the majority of the the citizens of this world.

Like many I expect my memories of the Khmer Rouge just hit the high points (or rather the low points) and it is easy to forget that the legacy lives on in the lives of those who experienced it. There are survivors who only survived physically and war criminals who literally got away with murder.

In a
Tom Cox
Mar 02, 2016 Tom Cox rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Think Elmore Leonard with a splash of Dashiell Hammett in Thailand and you've got the basic atmosphere created here by Timothy Hallinan. This is the first of the Poke Rafferty mysteries, which I see is now up to six. Poke is an American ex-pat of mixed Asian ancestry who makes money as a travel writer but also takes a few jobs on the side as an investigator. He's also a rescuer of people. More than anything, Poke wants to settle down into a normal "family" life with Rose, an ex go-go dancer, and ...more
Andrew Webster
Jan 23, 2014 Andrew Webster rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a great read. Subject matter admittedly difficult, but parts of the narrative are exceptional: as when Rose, former Bangkok bar girl and now Rafferty's lover (who he's committed to marry), evokes with brutal candour the gulf between them and their two cultures:

She breathes out sharply in exasperation and turns to him: "How far is it from me to you right now?"
This is not what he expects. "I don't know. Six, eight feet."
She throws the pencil onto the desk. "It's a million miles, Poke. And
Feb 25, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries, ebooks, fiction
Beautifully written, this book has one subplot that deals unflinchingly with the seediest of the seedy Bangkok underbelly and the sad fate of some Thai children. For that reason, it is not going to be for everyone. But the characters are terrific and this book is well worth the read if you can handle the darker stuff. Just don't mistake it for a cozy, or anything.
Mar 02, 2015 Bernice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
I can't remember if it was Neil Gaiman who said that the power of fiction, of stories, is that they give us empathy; they make us think of people and realities that we would otherwise be unaware of if we hadn't read about them. This book is gripping but there are parts that were excruciating to get through because, despite this being a work of crime/mystery fiction, as a reader, you know these parts are real, that they happened--that people were tortured and killed in Cambodia, that children are ...more
A thriller with a little something for everyone: it includes some of the most brutal "OK,-gotta-put-the-book-down-for-a-second" descriptions of torture I've seen in a book to date, but also some great, funny dialog from the ever-cynical main character, and some "feel-good" redemption stuff, as well. I appreciated gaining some insight into historical events, places, and people from that part of the world that I previously knew nothing about. Not a book for kids, but the often-times dark and graph ...more
John Purcell
Oct 20, 2014 John Purcell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
4.9 really. Too bad I didn't read this in 2007. Would have nominated it for all the awards. Really, really enjoyed it. Calling it a thriller is an understatement.
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I'm a thriller and mystery novelist who divides his time between Los Angeles and Southeast Asia, primarily Thailand, where I've has lived off and on for more than twenty years. As of now, I've had seventeen books published by major imprints.

My newest, THE HOT COUNTRIES (October 2014), is the seventh in a series of Bangkok thrillers about an American travel writer named Poke Rafferty and his small
More about Timothy Hallinan...

Other Books in the Series

Poke Rafferty Mystery (7 books)
  • The Fourth Watcher (Poke Rafferty Mystery, #2)
  • Breathing Water (Poke Rafferty Mystery, #3)
  • The Queen of Patpong (Poke Rafferty Mystery, #4)
  • The Fear Artist (Poke Rafferty Mystery, #5)
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“Does the guy move around much? If he’s more mobile than, say, the average couch, Cho will probably lose him.” 0 likes
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