Saturday, September 08, 2012

Timothy Hallinan and anger as a motivator in crime fiction

Timothy Hallinan's protagonist Poke Rafferty is a 1960s sitcom father in 2000s Bangkok. We virtually never see him working at his job (he's a travel writer), for example, and we get much about the joys and challenges of life with his unconventional family (He's Asian-Irish, his wife is a Thai ex-bar girl, and their daughter is a former street kid.)

Unlike Fred MacMurray, though, Poke gets angry, and when the darker emotions take over, he becomes an action hero. Here are two short examples from The Queen of Patpong (2010) of Poke working his way up to the metamorphosis:
"Rafferty has dried blood on his hand from when he pushed himself up from the carpet beside Mrs. Pongsiri. The sight of it makes him dizzy with anger."
“`You’re nervous,' Arthit says. `You don’t usually natter.' “`It’s not nerves, it’s plain old hatred.'”
Further, circumstantial evidence suggests that anger motivates not just the character, but his creator as well. In 2008, Hallinan told Detectives Beyond Borders that
"The dreadful child abuse – more pornography than prostitution – in A Nail Through the Heart was based on a real guy, a German monster who actually lived in Bangkok and shot there the pictures described in the book. I don't know whether he's dead (although I fervently hope he is), but the pictures seem to have stopped coming."
What other crime protagonists and crime writers are motivated by anger, fury, rage, or hatred? (I'll nominate Andrew Vachss and his several protagonists, including Burke.) How do you feel about anger as a motivator?

(Read both parts of Detectives Beyond Borders' 2008 interview with Tim Hallinan.)
Tim Hallinan will be part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland next month. The panel is called "Murder is Everywhere," and it happens Saturday, October 6, 10:15-11:05 a.m. See you there! Here's the complete Bouchercon schedule.
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Blogger Dana King said...

Anger is a common motivator in life. It only makes sense the same should apply to crime fiction,especially since so much of crime fiction deals with violence, bad decisions, and people who don't have a great deal of control over their emotions.

September 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But I'm not sure other writers are as explicit as Hallinan is about anger's being a motivator. Perhaps I notice the anger more in this case because Poke Rafferty and, I think, Hallinan as well, are normally low-key types. Poke is something like a mild-mannered Clark Kent stepping into a phone booth and changing into a Spandex costume with a letter A for anger on its front.

September 09, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I guess I have to mention revenge novels, like Cornell Woolrich's Rendezvous in Black. I'm hard-pressed to think of many more, but I'd like to. I dig seriously damaged protagonists.

September 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In that case, you might like two books that I'm reading now: "As Close as You'll Ever Be" by Seamus Scanlon and "Vile Blood" by Roger Smith.

But what makes Hallinan's protagonist interesting, for purposes of this discussion, is that he is in no way damaged. He's just a normal guy, without any especially dark side, who happens to get angry whe his family is threatened or especially bad people do especially bad things. I hope my flippant language about costumes and superheroes will not mislead anyone into thinking that he slips into a fugue state and wreaks mayhem.

September 09, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Thanks for the recs. Vile Blood is only available in an e-book, but I might break down and get it anyway.

September 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I bought it because I like Roger Smith's other work. (He wrote this one under a pseudonym, perhaps because, so far, at least, it has major horror elements.)

September 09, 2012  

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