“Hallinan is a wordsmith of the first order, and he puts his great narrative skills into overdrive on this one….You won’t read a better thriller this year!”—John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of Treasure Hunt
Author Timothy Hallinan returns to Bangkok, Thailand—and plunges his protagonist, travel writer Poke Rafferty, into graver peril than ever before—in The Queen of Patpong, Hallinan’s fourth Rafferty thriller following A Nail Through the Heart, The Fourth Watcher, and Breathing Water. Fans of John Burdett, Alexander McCall Smith, Daniel Silva, and Alan Furst who love being transported to exotic locales will be riveted when a nightmare figure from the past arrives at Poke Rafferty’s door to bring chaos and danger to the lives of the people he loves.
About the Author
Timothy Hallinan is the author of nine widely praised books: eight novels—including the Bangkok thrillers featuring Poke Rafferty—and a work of nonfiction. Along with his wife, Munyin Choy, he divides his time equally between Los Angeles, California, and Southeast Asia.
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The Queen of PatpongA Poke Rafferty Thriller
By Timothy Hallinan
Harper PerennialCopyright © 2011 Timothy Hallinan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTemporary Honeys
Old cigarette smoke, cheap perfume, sweat. The proven
architecture of soft pink light on soft brown skin. Bad rock
and roll, some mercifully forgotten tight pants, stadium
rock anthem from the 1980s, still being played in Bangkok, the town
where bad songs last forever. Shredded speakers, probably blown for
fifteen years. The bass notes like tearing paper.
The girls on the stage.
And there she is: Number 27.
The tall man sees her the moment he reaches the top of the stairway,
the symbolic barrier that prevents Bangkok's finest from enforcing
Thailand's strict anti-nudity law, news of which has clearly not reached
this room. Thanks to an elaborate, almost courtly, system of graft,
the cops pause downstairs long enough to let the doorman slip them
a couple thousand baht as he pushes a buzzer, and then they shuffle
slowly upward while the girls onstage wrap themselves in the cheap
taffeta slips that are normally knotted around their upper arms to display
They're almost all naked now, four of the five on the stage and most
of the eight or so who sit on customers' laps, arms languidly draped
around the suckers' necks. The girls dazzle their temporary honeys
with honest, open Thai smiles and whatever lie will open a pocket. The
tall man at the top of the stairs does a quick scan of the room, making
sure no one he knows is there. Then he returns his gaze to Number 27.
She's tiny, plump-cheeked, sullen-mouthed, with cupcake breasts, a
child's round tummy, and straight black hair in a blunt schoolgirl cut
that's grown out just enough to brush her shoulders. Of the five women
on the platform in the center of the room, she is the youngest by at least
five years, and the only one who isn't naked.
The tall man stares at her long enough to draw a glance, but she
quickly turns her back. He crosses the dark, narrow room to the
banquette in front of the mirrored wall. Once he's seated, with little
squares of light from the revolving mirrored ball above the stage chasing
each other across his shirt, he glances down. The photo in his hand
is a smudged photocopy of a high school identification card. The girl in
the picture faces the camera with the hopeful insecurity of adolescence.
She had risen to the occasion with a smile.
She isn't smiling now. She dances as though she is underwater, her
eyes fixed unblinkingly on her reflection in the mirror. She might be
stoned, drunk, suicidal, or just exhausted. Her short, salmon colored
slip, a loop of elastic holding up a yard of some cheap synthetic, has
been tugged down below her baby's belly to bare the upper half of her
body almost to the pubic area. The round lap bar button with the
number 27 on it is pinned to the elastic band of the slip, directly over
her right hip bone. The number is her only identification, but the tall
man knows her name, which is Toy.
In the six months since the photo was taken, she has grown the
schoolgirl hair an inch or more and plastered her face with makeup so
she looks older, but no matter. The tall man knows her age. The tall
man is here, in the Lap Bar on Bangkok's Patpong Road, because of
Today is Saturday, the twenty-fourth of April. Two days ago Number
27 turned sixteen.
In the street below, the short, crowded road called Patpong 1, the
street market has sprung into noisy life. Beneath the smoky half glow
of the night sky, two straggling lines of over-illuminated stalls offer
curios, jewelry, eel-skin and leather goods, preserved tarantulas and
scorpions, and an impressive variety of forgeries: watches, sunglasses,
fountain pens, computer software, games, compact discs, mislabeled
designer clothes, acrylic amber, and plastic ivory that's been buried in
water-buffalo manure for that convincing patina of age. In a few booths,
less brightly illuminated, the discerning shopper can pick through an
assortment of Tasers, flick knives, brass knuckles, switchblades, and
other instruments of intimate aggression.
They're mostly male, the florid horde for whom these treasures
gleam. Ranging from half drunk to barely ambulatory, grim faced and
dripping sweat, they push their way between the stands, checking the
rows of counterfeits with one eye and keeping the other eye on the
open doors to the bars. Patpong Road at night is almost all bars: Kiss,
Lipstick, Safari, King's Castle, Supergirls, Pussy Galore. Through the
open doors, chilly air pours into the streets, pumped by the heartbeat
rhythms of trance and techno. Bar girls in cheap, fake satin wraps
stand in the doorways and call out cheerful, indiscriminate Thai greetings
to the nameless darlings in the street, pushing the paradise inside.
At the end of the road, where Patpong empties into Silom Road, a
man wearing reflective Ray-Bans and the tight fitting brown paramilitary
uniform of the Bangkok police lounges against the window of a
nondescript restaurant. The uniform sets off broad shoulders and narrow
hips while also making way, with a certain amount of strain, for a
small but ambitious potbelly. There is nothing soft about the potbelly:
it looks like something to avoid bumping your head on. He glances at
a heavy steel watch on a too large band, flips it around from the front
of his wrist to the back, and then checks it again as he realizes he's
forgotten to look at the time. Satisfied, he folds his hands over the round
bellya practiced, comfortable gesture.
The policeman has a hairline receding on either side of a stubborn
widow's peak, medium dark skin, a disappointed mouth that turns
down at the ends, and broad, almost muscular nostrils. Behind the
mirrored Ray-Bansgenuinehe lazily scans the crowd, straightening
only when he catches sight of a heavyset white man in a loose shirt,
patched with sweat, who roughly tows a young Thai girl through the
throng. The girldark complected, tangle haired, flat-nosed, dressed
in a knotted T-shirt and cutoff jeanspulls back, distracted by a bright
row of bootleg DVDs, and the heavyset man gives her hand a yank
that almost jerks her off her feet. Feeling the policeman's eyes on her,
the girl turns and frowns at him before breaking into a smile. After
a moment the policeman smiles back. The heavyset white man snags
a tuk-tuk, a three wheeled open-air taxi, and hauls the girl onto the
backseat behind him. He doesn't barter the fare, so he's in for at least
one unpleasant surprise during the evening. The tuk-tuk driver swerves
into traffic with a fine disregard for the possibility of death. The policeman
leans back against the window of the restaurant and looks at his
"Thank you," says the young woman with the wandering eye. She's in
her middle twenties, plain and plump, with a wide Isaan nose. A fall of
red-dyed hair has been combed forward over the left side of her face to
mask the errant eye. She has tugged the elasticized slip modestly up to
her armpits. A thin gold chain around her neck disappears into the slip.
The tall man knows there will be a Buddhist amulet at the end of it,
which the woman will drag around to hang against her back when she
dances, so as not to expose it to the goings-on in the bar. She will also
remove it when she services a customer.
She puts the cola the man bought her on the round table in front of
him and gives him an expert glance. There is an Asian smoothness to
his features. He has straight black Asian hair and up-tilted eyes that are
almost black, the color of dangerous ice.
He says, "What's the baby's name?" He indicates Toy with a lift
of his chin. One of the other dancers leans over, laughing, and yanks
the girl's slip down, and now she dances with the slip pooled at her
ankles and her hands folded protectively over her shadowy pudenda.
She seems miles away.
"Toy," says the plump girl grudgingly. She leans forward and puts a
hand on his wrist as a demand for attention. "You no good for her. She
too young for here. You have good heart, you give me thousand baht,
I give five hundred to mama-san for bar fine and five hundred to Mai,
and she go home. You take other girl, I help you find pretty girl, not
like me. She baby, you unnerstan'?"
"Yes. Tell Toy I want to talk to her."
The plump girl has picked up the cola, but now she puts it down
and pulls the hair back from the wandering eye. It searches the mirror
behind the tall man as the other eye studies his face. Whatever she sees
there, she lowers the hair over her face again and turns her back on him,
heading for three very drunk Japanese men who have just staggered in,
their bright red faces upturned toward the stage. They brush past the
plump woman as though she isn't there, and she stands where they've
left her, hands hanging loose at her sides, looking at a spot on the floor.
One of them points at Toy and says something, and the others laugh.
The tall man checks his watch, sits back, and smiles at Toy.
AT 9 :2 2 by the policeman's watch, two beer-sodden Australians begin
to clobber each other in the street in front of a stand selling fake amber
beads. The Aussies throw their punches slowly and deliberately, as if
rehearsing for a fight that will be filmed later, but the blows land with
a flat, heavy sound, like cuts of meat falling to the floor. The prize over
which they are fightinga slight, narrow shouldered, heavily tattooed
Thai female of twenty or sochews thoughtfully on a hangnail as the
larger of the two men grabs the smaller by the hair and slams his head
against the edge of the booth. The small man starts to bleed immediately ,
even before the beads hit the pavement and begin bouncing among the
feet of the onlookers. The girl scratches her shoulder, snags the offending
fingernail on her T-shirt, and looks down at it with irritation.
The bleeding man emits a high, reedy, choked sound. He rips off his
football jacket and hands it to the girl and then leaps forward, wrapping
his fingers around his friend's neck. The two of them begin to topple
over. The policeman steps forward, arms spread wide, thoughtfully
clearing a space in the crowd for the struggling men to fall through. He
steps over the fighters without a downward glance and begins to help
the vendor pick up her beads. The girl takes a quick look at the fighting
men and rifles the pockets of the jacket. Whatever she finds there, she
slips it into the pocket of her jeans. She drops the jacket onto the street,
and her eyes meet the policeman's. He gives her a shrug, and she melts
into the crowd.
He sits back, watching her not look at him. Her glazed fascination
with her own reflection has been broken. She's even picking up her feet
a little, although she's turned her back to him, almost shyly. But he can
still see her face in the mirror on the opposite wall, and her eyes come
back to him again and again, and then they slide away and search the
room as if she's looking for an ally.
He orders a Singha beer from the mama-san, a thickset, brightly
dressed woman with gold on her wrists and fingers and nothing merry
about her. The Lap Bar is a typical upstairs joint. The bar is at one end
of the room, the women dance on a raised platform in the middle of the
space, and the customers sit either at stools pulled directly up to the
stage or on a long, cigarette scarred bench against the mirrored walls,
with a small table every few feet to hold their drinks. The tall man is on
the couch, and he keeps his eyes on Number 27.
Chased by his gaze, the girl has worked her way down the stage until
she's directly in front of the three drunk Japanese. One of them calls
out to her, placing both hands over his heart in a gesture of exaggerated
romanticism and then forming a circle with his right thumb and forefinger
and pushing his left index finger in and out of it. His companions
burst into raucous laughter, an explosion of sound that the tall man can
hear even over the loud music. The girl misses a step, as if she's tripped
on the laugh. She stands still for a long moment, not looking at the
Japanese men, not looking at the tall man who watches her, and then
she turns and trudges the length of the stage until she is in front of the
tall man again. She walks as though she weighs five hundred pounds.
The three Japanese men are drumming their hands on the bar, a rolling
rhythm over the music, to call the girl back down to them. They
flash fingers in the red light, playing a game of rock-paper-scissors to
see who will have her first, and Number 27 makes her decision. She
turns and forces a smile at the tall man.
It isn't much of a smile.
Excerpted from The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Hallinan. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“Timothy Hallinan has written a thriller that hits every bulls-eye. An exotic locale, a human, all-too-believable protagonist, and a villain that would give James Lee Burke nightmares. The Queen of Patpong reads like a bullet train on fire.”
“The Queen of Patpong is simply outstanding. Compelling, heart-wrenching, and oh so satisfying.... Hallinan has once again proved to me why he is one of my all time favorite authors.”
“Timothy Hallinan’s The Queen of Patpong is pure magic; a compelling thriller grown from a dark and treacherous soil.... Hallinan is courageous in his exploration of sexual exploitation, greed and corruption. I’ve read no one better on the subject.”
“I have loved all of Tim Hallinan’s “Bangkok” novels, and his latest, The Queen of Patpong, is the best yet.... You won’t read a better thriller this year!”
“Ferociously compelling and deeply movingthe rare thriller that manages to keep you on the edge of your seat at the same time it opens your eyes and heart.”
“The Queen of Patpong is a razor-sharp, convincing, and heartbreaking glimpse of the dark underbelly of a culture, and a white-knuckle thriller all in one. Hold on tight and cancel your morning meetings. Hallinan is a stunning talent.”
“Sexy, exotic, and profound. Timothy Hallinan makes noir poetry out of corruption and violence.”
“Tim Hallinan is one of the great unsung mystery writers. His latest in the Poke Rafferty series is his best yet.... John Burdett writes about Bangkok. Tim Hallinan IS......Bangkok. I adore this book.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Tim Hallinan has outdone himself! For those of you who have followed Poke, Rose, Miaow and Arthit this is the story of Rose-her history and terrifying encounter with a character from her past. This is one of the best written villains I have encountered in reading literature. The bonding that occurs between Poke and his little family in order to bring about the story's powerful and stunning resolution is character writing at its best. Give yourself a chance to live and breathe the streets of Bangkok! Put yourself on a train that starts off at a nice pace and winds up carrying you at warp speed to a thrilling ending. This book has it all-thrills, humor, heart, place and impeccable writing style. I don't allow myself to read more than 40 pages a day with this author because I have to wait another year for his next book. With Queen of Patpong I was forced to read it nonstop until I reached the very last page. I admit it, I've become a Tim Hallinan addict because he keeps outdoing himself and it is just too difficult to keep from finding out where he is going next and what that furtive imagination will yield next!!
This book sucks you right in and carries you along with the characters. I discover this is number 4 in the series about the same people, so I will now go back and find out what I've missed earlier. Lots of macho action (fist fights, traffic dodging, chase scene in the middle of the water) and feminine angst (leading female figure grows up in rural Thai poverty, circumstances move her to Bangkok and a life she's never envisioned). Very enjoyable.
In Bangkok, American travel writer Poke Rafferty and his lover Rose marry and forge a family with their adopted daughter Miaow. The adults are euphoric that their child is playing Ariel in a school production of the Tempest. However, their idyllic life is battered at a restaurant when Rose's past on Patpong Road raises its ugly head with the return of Howard Homer from the dead while Rose thought she dispatched him years ago. Now Homer has plans for his woman while Rose thinks back to 1996 when as a country bumpkin teen Kwan was forced to leave her life on a farm to accept employment in the Red Light District as a bar dancer. There is where she encountered Homer who almost killed her before she was able to she thought kill him. Homer stalks Rose, Poke their adopted daughter Miaow and friend Arthit. The latest Poke Rafferty Thailand thriller (see Breathing Water) is a brilliant entry due to the intelligent way Timothy Hallinan deftly handles Rose's back story as a dancer in the red light district. By not condemning or condoning her actions, Mr. Hallinan makes the tale seem real as he makes it clear this is simply a way of life. Homer brings the suspense to the streets of Bangkok as fans anticipate a High Noon confrontation perhaps on Patpong Road. Harriet Klausner
Mr. Hallinan does not disappoint. I can't wait for another Poke Rafferty book.
This fourth installment of Timothy Hallinan's Poke Rafferty series, set in Bangkok, is such a stunning, magical thriller that it will be a real challenge to do it justice here. But I'll give it a try. American travel writer Poke, former bar dancer Rose, and their adoptive daughter, Miaow, have at last become a family. They are enjoying dinner in a restaurant one evening, when a dangerous, evil man from Rose's past whom she thought she had killed in self-defense suddenly appears, threatening their newfound happiness and their lives. A section of the book called "The Sea Change" takes us back into Rose's past, in 1996, when the innocent teenage girl is coerced to leave her village and become immersed in a radically different sort of life as a bar dancer in Bangkok's red-light district Patpong. It's there that she meets the handsome man who very nearly ends her life. The whole story is ingeniously interwoven with scenes from a school production of "The Tempest," in which Miaow is appearing as Ariel. This compelling, beautifully written novel is not only suspenseful and filled with twists and turns; it's also deeply moving, with vividly drawn characters, and it comes to an unexpected resolution that's very, very satisfying. Strongly recommended for anyone who enjoys a terrific thriller of high literary quality.
We had a heat wave in the Northeast U.S. this week, but I didn't mind-I felt completely simpatico with the characters in Timothy Hallinan's new Poke Rafferty thriller set in Thailand. Hallinan did such a good job getting us inside his characters and their lives, I felt as though I'd just spent a week in Southeast Asia. In this latest offering, Hallinan describes how one comes to live the life of a bar girl in Patpong, Bangkok. While undoubtedly fiction, it sounded plausible enough to describe the experiences of many country girls sold to the meat markets of the city, making their way the best they can. Hallinan has the good sense to be matter-of-fact about life in Thailand. He is no apologist for a whole country or way of life, but he has a depth of sympathy for the reality of people's lives and a deep and abiding love for people of honor, wherever he finds them. And he describes Thailand with the splash and fizz it deserves-one can smell the markets and hear the traffic. In The Queen of Patpong, Hallinan succeeds on many levels: Poke Rafferty daughter is acting in a school play, and it is described with such skill, one feels one has just read a particularly good newspaper review. One wants to race right out and book a ticket. The central mystery of the novel circles and mirrors the play ingeniously, and the play itself is central to a final resolution of the mystery. Hallinan deserves very high marks for this wonderful warm and friendly novel, and for sharing his imagination and his life with us. I asked a friend once what was the draw of the TV serial Sex in the City. She replied that, for her, the strength and depth of the female friendships was the draw. She knew it was fiction, but it presented such a wonderful fiction that she watched it whenever she could. Hallinan has a little of that specialness in his books. There is such friendliness, such sincere human-to-human contact, one wants to be in that place. Kudos, Hallinan.
This book showed up as a recommendation via LT. I was not impressed with the writing, with the huge gaping holes in the story-line and the sensationalist topic that offered no deeper insight into the plight of Thai children being sold into the sex trade industry than a Hollywood Tabloid. Even the author's disclaimer at the end of the book suggesting that MOST mercenaries are nice guys was, in my opinion, just more empty fodder to gain attention for this book. Poke's wife is a product of the sex trade - okay. All of a sudden a man from her past rises up like the devil himself, to terrorize her and the family. Rose repeatedly implies that Horner - the bad mercenary that's after her/them has limitless power and then proceeds to do nothing but stare out windows and smoke. Poke leaves Rose and their daughter alone numerous times while his wife is in extreme danger but as luck would have it, her chain smoking is never interrupted. Big bad Horner and his evil buddy do attack Poke and the daughter but they make short work of scaring Horner away and the buddy is crushed by a bus because he forgot that Thai's drive on the opposite side of the street than Americans. Now, the deep part - Rose/Kwan tells her superficial story of her evil father and how she is sold into the sex industry .... she didn't know how beautiful she was, she saved huge sums of money - where did that go, what's the point? Rose/Kwan just turned off being a prostitute and "love" transformed her into a pouty wife that operates a house cleaning business to further exploit the bar girls that she is able to pluck out of the business without any repercussions from the bar operators/mama-sans, in fact the mama-sans readily take up Rose/Kwan's "noble" cause and - oh, don't let me ruin the ending for anyone. If you loved the film "Pretty Woman" and hoped that a poor Thai version book would come out, then you're in luck.
THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, A POKE RAFFERTY THRILLER is a title that is something of a misnomer. It is the fourth book in the Poke Rafferty series by Timothy Hallinan, but while it is definitely a thriller it isn¿t really a Poke Rafferty book. The book belongs to Rose, Poke¿s wife, a former dancer in a bar, whose outstanding beauty made her the queen of the red -light district of Bangkok. And that isn¿t quite right either. Would any woman be happy with a title that describes ¿what¿ she is when the ¿who¿ she is goes so far beyond that sad bit of geography that has come to define, in many minds, Bangkok?Rose is extraordinary and so is her story. Both owe their existence to the great talent of the author who has written a book that defines the experience of the brutally poor young women who are forced to sell their beauty and, in many unfortunate cases, their souls so that they can support their families and perhaps, hopefully, keep their younger sisters from having to make the same deal with the devil.Hallinan choreographs chapter one so that readers who are just discovering the series with THE QUEEN OF PATPONG have enough information to understand the underside of Bangkok. For those who are familiar with the characters, chapter one is funny and a bit reassuring after BREATHING WATER. Chapter two lulls readers as they go to dinner with Poke, Rose, and Miaow who is caught up in her role as Ariel in her school¿s production of THE TEMPEST. It is a glimpse into the life of a happy family until, suddenly, it isn¿t. A man approaches and places his palms flat on the table in front of Rose. Rose is terrified. Rose was sure he was dead because she was sure she had killed him.Howard Horner is a nightmare from Rose¿s past. The next day, when Poke discovers evidence that Horner knows where they live and when Miaow spots Horner¿s associate, John, stalking them, the stakes have been upped and Poke has to become proactive in protecting his family.Poke leaves Miaow in the cab and follows John to a the Beer Garden, where he runs, literally, into Pim, a girl from the north who is following the same path from poverty as Rose did. When Poke asks Pim to see if John is inside, things go badly, and Pim becomes a hostage. Poke takes care of John; Poke takes Pim home. Emotions are unbridled, glass breaks, doors slam, voices are raised, tears flow and, because Pim reminds Rose of herself, the girl whose name was Kwan, Rose talks about her past to save the girl and to save her family.It is in this part of the book that Hallinan¿s writing soars. As Rose tells her story, she disappears and becomes Kwan, the very tall village girl called, disparagingly, Stork. Kwan is beautiful although she does not know it. She is very bright, something she does know. Her teacher and a man from the Children¿s Scholarship Fund come to her home to offer her father money to allow Kwan to stay in school, to even move on to college. But her father refuses and with that refusal Kwan realizes that he has already sold her to a brothel in Bangkok. Rather than becoming a vitual slave, Kwan decides to leave town quietly with Nana, a village girl who has been working on Patpong. Rose continues her story¿.When she is finished, Poke knows that Rose and Miaow will not be safe as long as Howard Horner is free to roam Bangkok. His claim that Rose broke a promise is true and for a man with Horner¿s ego, she needs to pay for that with her life. Poke brings Pim along as he hides his family in Arthit¿s house. Once the women are safe, Poke begins to put into action a plan borrowed from THE TEMPEST.The author makes frequent references to THE TEMPEST throughout the novel. The first section is entitled ¿Caliban¿ after the half-man, half-monster in the play. Horner is Caliban, who believes himself the victim of gross injustice. The second section, the story of Kwan/Rose is entitled ¿Sea Change¿. In the play, Shakespeare writes: ¿Of his bones are coral made:/ Those are pearls t
Poke Rafferty living in Bangkok has married a former sex worker. Her tale now comes to live when she runs into evil from her past life.Not a big fan of fiction about the international sex industry and it was hard to stay with the novel. Author Hallinan did a good job keeping it from becoming too soap-box but it was a hard topic. This is why it didn't rate high for me. The mystery part was still good.
This is an exceptional novel, certainly deserving its Edgar nomination. Timothy Hallinan writes with a graceful ease that makes Queen of Patpong highly readable. Within a short time, Thailand literally popped off the pages. Hallinan articulated both rural and urban Thailand, vastly different worlds unto themselves, with such authority and vivid detail, I literally felt transported into a wholly new and exotic culture. The central story revolves around a young Thai girl's birthwright into poor village hopelessness, which by unfortunate fate, ultimately compelled her into big city prostitution. Hallinan's prespective is straighforward, the seediness of Rose's situation is always present, but not overstated. Hallinan masterfully spins the tension of that situation into a life and death showdown with a truly evil person from Rose's past.