The Queen of Patpong

queenThe Queen of Patpong
by Timothy Hallinan
2010 / 320 pages
read by Victor Bevine –  11h 50m
rating –  A+  – literary crime
(#4 in Poke Rafferty series)

One night while Poke, Rose and Miao Rafferty are eating dinner in a Thai restaurant, a man approaches and seriously threatens them – violence ensues.  The guy turns out to be Howard Horner,  a man from Rose’s unfortunate past, who has returned to get revenge.

After getting all that straightened out and meeting a couple of current bar girls,  the narrative moves to Rose’s background and the transformation from her life as an impoverished farm girl  named Kwan to being Rose,  the “Queen of Patpong.”   (Patpong is a red-light district in Bangkok.)

Rose’s past takes up about half the center of the book and it’s the riveting, gritty  story of how it happens that farm girls from northern Thailand become bar dancers in Bangkok,  There is a very authentic feel to this whole section of the narrative,  not in the specifics but in general because while relating the tale,  Hallinan brings to life some characters we really care about.  These are not just reflections of the statistics or cardboard pornography we usually see. Parts of The Queen of Patpong are grittier than others as it deals with the essentially  forced prostitution of underage girls in Bangkok.   I had a hard time with the subject matter for awhile.  It’s not light or easy reading.

This is one reason for the “literary crime” tag.  Another reason for the tag is that adjective story of Rose intertwines with Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” which is being presented by Miao’s  school with her playing the part of Ariel.

Still,  although there is a literary aspect to the novel,  the tension rarely lets up entirely because of the ever-present danger and possibility and eventuality of violence.  It ends with an incredible blow-out – great job.    Thankfully, the more violent chapters are broken by chapters dealing with the Rafferty home life which are generally quite loving and fairly sweet and “normal” (by comparison).

I’ve been following this series slowly – it’s very nicely written with good thriller material in an “exotic” location,  but still,  it’s usually a bit gritty for my regular tastes.

The series follows Poke Rafferty, an American travel writer living in Bangkok, Thailand with his,  by this volume, wife Rose who is a Thai woman and ex-bar dancer, and their teenage daughter,  Miaow,  whom they adopted from the streets a couple books ago.

Hallinan writes very nicely with vivid descriptions of both Patapong and the farm region and uses realistic dialogue.

I’m looking forward to books 5, 6, and 7 but it might take a few months –