For Poke Rafferty, life is on the upswing. He’s adapting to marriage with his longtime girlfriend, Rose, an extraordinarily beautiful former Patpong Road bar girl and go-go dancer, and he enjoys taking his share of the responsibility for raising their adopted daughter, Miaow. Not the least of the things contributing to Poke’s well being are the royalties from his latest travel book that allow him and his fledgling family to live comfortably, if not extravagantly.
Once a child of the streets, not yet a teen, Miaow—Mia, as she wants to be known—wages daily struggles on several fronts in coming to terms with her new reality; unconditional love is largely an unfamiliar concept to her and she often reacts badly to parental guidance; as she strives to understand why everything in the world isn’t always about her, she also strives to understand her place in that world; she wants to fit in, to be accepted. She attends an exclusive up-scale school, where she makes good grades, and where she has a starring role in an upcoming play—a Poke rewrite of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Rose, once known as the Queen of Patpong, now leads a more respectable life (as she has since meeting Poke); in addition to fulfilling her duties to family, she also co-owns a successful small business that has the side-benefit of helping some of the more motivated bar girls change careers. But Rose has a dark secret, and that secret could get her and her family killed.
The last person Rose expected to see in the restaurant that night was Howard Horner, a violent man from her past, one whom she thought was dead. But there he is, towering over their table, with menace in his eyes, malice in his heart, and revenge on his mind—or, could his motivation be nothing more complicated than the need to protect his own dark secret? Whatever his motive, his intention is to punish Rose in every way possible before taking her life.
Poke has other ideas. Convinced that Horner poses an imminent threat to Rose’s, Miaow’s and his own safety, he goes on the offensive, taking the fight to an enemy in possession of vastly better training and experience than his own. What Poke lacks in tradecraft, though, he makes up for in other ways. His agile mind makes him adept at thinking on-the-fly and his intimate knowledge of Bangkok—of its people, of Thai customs and culture—helps to balance the power equation. But will it be enough? Perhaps, with lots of luck and a little help from his friends . . ..
Because The Queen of Patpong is more about Rose than it is about Poke, Hallinan devotes the entirety of Part II—The Sea Change—to telling Rose’s story, of the circumstances that led her from an Isaan village and an existence mired in grinding poverty to the red light district of Bangkok’s Patpong Road and a possible means of escaping that poverty. Hallinan takes his writing into uncharted territory, here, and his considerable writing talents really shine through. It’s one thing to write about difficult subjects (poverty, prostitution, sex slavery, human trafficking), quite another to weave a story around and through those same subjects and tell it from an unfamiliar perspective—Rose’s. Tim succeeds on all counts, proving yet again that a talent as immense as his will not be suppressed, ignored or denied. He's flying above the radar, now, and nothing is going to change that.
Continuing the tradition set by his previous Poke Rafferty thrillers (A Nail Through the Heart, The Fourth Watcher, and Breathing Water), Timothy Hallinan’s The Queen of Patpong captures and distills the essence of what it means to be young, poor and female in Thai society. Drawing on his vast stores of knowledge about Bangkok and Thailand, Mr. Hallinan crafts an immensely readable blockbuster of a story that delivers all the mystery, intrigue and breathtaking excitement one comes to expect from the Poke Rafferty series. If you only read two novels during the next year, make The Queen of Patpong one of them. Hallinan definitely raised the bar for his contemporaries with this one.
A gifted writer and storyteller, Timothy Hallinan divides his time between Los Angeles and Bangkok. Visit his Web site at http://www.timothyhallinan.com/ for more information about the author. If you’re a Tim Hallinan fan—or want to become one— join the online discussions at The Blog Cabin and Murder is Everywhere. And if you’re an aspiring writer in need of some sage writing advice, don’t miss Tim’s Writers’ Resources. They’re the best.
by Phil Hanson