The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan

I am a big fan of the Poke Rafferty series by Timothy Hallinan so I try to keep up with the latest release but for various reasons I have been falling behind.

My mother-in-law bought me the latest in the series, The Queen of Patpong, and I read it in early September. But work and life intervened and I never managed to post a review here. Allow me to rectify that now.

I won’t leave you in suspense. I loved the book as usual. But it wasn’t neccesarily a foregone conclusion. This book is different as a big chunk of the story centers on and is told from the perspective of Rose rather than the central character Poke Rafferty.

As in the earlier books, however, this one places the reader smack in the middle of the heat and intrigue of Bangkok/Thailand. Hallinan offers an exciting plot but also gripping insight into the plight of young women forced to move to the city and act as pawns in the sex trade in a desperate attempt to make money and save their families.

This social drama is seamlessly weaved into the story so that it doesn’t come off as preachy or pedantic but simply reality.

Publishers Weekly capture the power of this perspective and story:

Hallinan’s compassionate fourth Poke Rafferty thriller (after Breathing Water) finds Poke and his live-in girlfriend, Rose, finally married, but a specter from Rose’s past as a dancer on Bangkok’s notorious Patpong Road comes back to haunt her. As a naïve country girl named Kwan, Rose fell for the charms of American Howard Horner, never suspecting that Horner’s true interest in her involved something far darker than romance. Long thought dead, sly predator Horner is back in Bangkok to stalk Rose and all who are dear to her. Hallinan uses the menace Horner represents to springboard into a sympathetic depiction of Rose’s life, revealing without condescension how a simple farm girl decided that the least bad of all the unappealing options open to her was to offer herself to a parade of strangers for money. Rafferty neither idolizes nor demonizes Bangkok’s sex workers, instead casting an empathetic but incisive eye on a class of people often reduced to mere caricature.

I think this is what I appreciate most about this series – it offers a wonderful balance between suspense and literary/social exploration; the blend of entertainment and enlightenment if you will.

Hallinan offer not only the tension and suspense of a thriller but the human insight of a more literary novel. In this type of setting and story it would be very easy to slip into caricature and cardboard cutouts but Hallinan offers humanity in all its depth and complexity instead.

As I have said before, and will say again, if you have not read this series I highly recommend you do so.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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