My introduction to Timothy Hallinan came courtesy of “Little Elvises.” I enjoyed that immensely, so I was quite excited to read his “The Queen of Patpong.” This is the fourth book the Poke Rafferty series by Hallinan.
The storyline focuses on Rose, Poke’s wife. It seems her past is catching up to her. A mysterious, dangerous man from her past suddenly reappears. Years ago, Rose killed a man, or at least thought she did. Unfortunately, he is not dead and he is not happy that Rose tried to kill him.
Her story starts with Poke helping a friend scare a young girl away from the “life” of a dancer on Patpong Road. If you aren’t familiar with back-story of Poke in Thailand, as I wasn’t, you might be a bit confused about the opening chapter, don’t worry; stick with it. All becomes clear, how this scene ties in with the overall theme of the book.
After Poke saves the girl, the book ramps up the tension with a violent run in with Rose’s former lover in a restaurant, from this scene on the book builds up the tension.
The encounter sends Poke and his family running for cover. It is a credit to how well Hallinan writes that the scene in the restaurant disturbed me so much I had to put the book down for a while.
This is a menacing book, but, yes, there is the trademark humor of a Hallinan book. Still, “Queen,” however, is not a funny book. The book tackles the dark side of Thailand. Women from poor families, in small villages, go off or forced to the big city to become dancers. I assure you this isn’t dancing as at the ballet.
A majority of the book is dedicated to Rose’s story from when she was a young woman, in just such circumstances. There is also a portion of the book dedicated to Poke and Miaow, a former street kid now living with Poke and Rose.
Hallinan paints a grim picture of Thailand and Bangkok, in particular. You feel like you are there as Rose enters the world of bars, men and “dancing.” Hallinan treats the subject matter gently, never letting you feel like he is condemning the culture. He’s merely telling you what it is like to be in such circumstances.
It took me several days to get through her part of the story.
Since this is the fourth book in the Poke Rafferty series, as a reader, I was at a slight disadvantage because I didn’t know the back-story of Rose and Poke. I also don’t know how Miaow came to be a member of their family; sometimes Poke and Miaow dialogue seemed a little off. She came off a little too world-weary, a little too smart, but that is only because I don’t know her back-story.
The pace is good; you have the opening restaurant scene and then a bit of cat and mouse with Poke and the bad guys. Then there is an interlude as it switches to Rose’s perspective and you learn how she met Horner, our dangerous villain. I found that section fascinating, filled with wonderful details.
Less fascinating is the secondary story of Miaow, who now wants to go by Mia, attempting assimilate into her prestigious school. Again, I don’t have her full story, so I can’t see her as anything other than a bit of brat.
Still, Hallinan know his dialogue. Conversations involving Poke and Mia feel like as if written by someone that has experience talking to moody teenage girls.
The ending is satisfactorily “happy,” which might annoy you if you want your books more “gritty.” I, on the other hand, was thrilled with the ending.
This book certainly piqued my curiosity about Poke Rafferty, thanks to this book I want to read the entire series from the beginning.
Jennifer Flaten lives where the local delicacy is fried cheese, Wisconsin. She writes about family life, its amusing or not so amusing moments. "At least it's not another article on global warming," she says. Jennifer bakes a mean banana bread and admits an unusual attraction to balloon animals and cup cakes. Busy preparing for the zombie apocalypse, she stills finds time to write "As I See It," her witty, too often true column. "My urge to write," says Jennifer, "is driven by my love of cupcakes, with sprinkles on top. Who wouldn't write for cupcakes, with sprinkles," she wonders.
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