I have always thought of my job at BookPage as “Book Reviewer”, so when I went to Japan for the first time, I listed that as my occupation on the entry form. Apparently it confused the immigration officer, as he gave me a puzzled look and asked in heavily inflected English “Booku leeviewer? What is this job?” I went on to explain—haltingly—what I do, and he suddenly brightened up. “Aah, rittererry clitic!” he exclaimed, grinning broadly. I am thinking strongly of having that job title put on my business cards.
One of my favorite parts of being a rittererry clitic is that I often get to interact with my favorite writers, by email, by phone, and occasionally in person. As you might imagine, they are a literate bunch, by and large, and endlessly entertaining to swap war stories with. If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you may recognize the byline of Tim Hallinan, who has added several insightful and hilarious comments to the entries. It seems we share an affinity for unusual Japanese variants of KitKat chocolate bars, so I recently sent him a couple of examples of the most recent flavors, Apple Vinegar and Lemon Vinegar, which he said tasted like room deodorizer, a very apt description. I had the pleasure of reading Tim’s latest book, Breathing Water, on the flight back to Halifax a couple of weeks ago, and it is every bit as edge-of-the-seat entertaining as his last novel, The Fourth Watcher. I will be reviewing Breathing Water in next month’s issue of BookPage, but as a teaser, I have appended my BookPage review of The Fourth Watcher below:
“OK, call me a sucker for thrillers set in exotic foreign locations, particularly ones with rampant corruption, triple-digit humidity and lazily seductive ex-bargirl protagonists. Guilty as charged; please let me serve out my sentence in the Thailand depicted by author Timothy Hallinan in his wickedly atmospheric new work, The Fourth Watcher, this month’s Tip of the Ice Pick Award winner.
Travel writer Poke Rafferty has a clever and popular series going for him: ‘Looking for Trouble In . . .’ (fill in the blank with the exotic Asian locale of your choice). His latest installment about Bangkok is in the works, after which he is thinking seriously about settling down into a line of work a bit less edgy and dangerous, to allow him to spend more time with his girlfriend and their recently adopted daughter (a precocious 10-going-on-30-year-old named Miaow). However, although Poke may no longer be ‘looking for trouble,’ trouble is definitely looking for him when his long-estranged father shows up unannounced, with a box full of rubies and a very large favor to ask. Poke initially wants nothing to do with his old man, but that decision is quickly taken out of his hands: his girlfriend and daughter are kidnapped, along with the wife of his best friend. If Poke ever wants to see them again, he will have to come up with the rubies (and a whack of cash) and turn his father over to a sworn enemy who has been tracking Rafferty Senior without success for a number of years. Well, that’s the setup, but it doesn’t begin to describe the action, the intensity, the pacing, the humor, the dialogue, etc. What words are sufficient to describe a book with chapters titled ‘Ugliest Mole in China,’ ‘Asterisks Would Take Too Long,’ or my personal fave, ‘The Leading Sphincter on the Planet’? Is it enough to call someone a clever wordsmith when they can craft a sentence like ‘He was unevolved; he had one foot in the Mesozoic and the other in his mouth.’? So I ask you, after reading this review, can you think of one good reason not to read this book? I can’t.”
It was admittedly a glowing review, but to be fair, most of my reviews are largely positive. I would prefer to wax poetic about a book I loved rather than waste time and ink trashing one I hated. Many times I have read unkind reviews that revealed much more about the character (or lack thereof) of the reviewer than the inherent quality (or lack thereof) of the book, which I never have thought to be the purpose of a book review. Also, with the volume of books coming my way, I tend not to finish ones I don’t like, figuring that if the author has not engaged me in the initial fifty pages, it is unlikely that he/she will pull out a Hail Mary save in the final fifty. Happily, I get to choose my books for the column, and it is a pleasure to read and review worthy works, particularly when I am able to introduce a new author (or one that is new to me) to the BookPage reading public.
Anyway, shortly after the review came out, I got an email from Tim, the first of many, which I will reproduce in part below. Normally, my editor at BookPage guards my email address as though it were a Homeland Security priority, but Tim must have turned on the charm (and of course she knew how much I liked his book), so she allowed him to pry it out of her.
“Your review of THE FOURTH WATCHER was the nicest thing to happen to me in months. I was sitting in Suvanabhumi Airport in Bangkok at 5:20 AM, having stayed up all night to catch a 6:30 flight, and feeling sorry for myself when I opened my laptop to see that my editor at Morrow… had sent me the PDF of your review. It was better than a quart of coffee.”
Two quick notes: 1) I am reasonably certain that this is the only email I have ever received in my entire life containing the word “Suvanabhumi”, and 2) at some point, I will meet up with Tim for an evening of stories and laughter, preferably in some equatorial expat bar with a lazily swirling ceiling fan. So it is written, so shall it be.