Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2011 Edgar Nominee: Book Review: The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan

The Queen of Patpong
By Timothy Hallinan

     Timothy Halllinan has written nine thrillers, including a series featuring travel writer Poke Rafferty.  This novel is the fourth in the Poke Rafferty series.  The novel is set in Bangkok.  Poke is married to a former dancer from the notorious red-light district of Bangkok, Patpong Road.  They have an adopted daughter, a street child who is now a teenager.  This is all back story which evolved over the first three books. 

     This novel starts with Rose now running an employment agency which helps former exotic dancers and prostitutes transition to a more traditional and socially acceptable lifestyle.  Poke continues to write and their daughter Miaow is starring as Ariel in her school’s presentation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Life for this family has settled into somewhat of a routine when an ugly reminder of Rose’s past resurfaces.  Howard Horner is an independent defense contractor working in Afghanistan who likes to take breaks in Thailand.  He had become quite possessive of Rose early in her career and had dubbed her The Queen of Patpong.  He resurfaces in Bangkok and seems bound and determined to make life miserable for the Rafferty family, following and harassing them daily.  Rose, in particular seems terrified of this man.

       The middle third of the book tells the story of Kwan, a beautiful tall girl from a small impoverished village in northern Thailand.  The girl is the oldest of five children and her father attempts to sell her in to prostitution in Bangkok in order to make ends meet.  Kwan is then lured away from this situation by a former town girl who promises her that if Kwan follows her back to Bangkok, she will just have  to work as a bar girl and “not do anything she doesn’t want to do.”   Kwan travels to Bangkok and is then immediately swept up into the exotic dancing and prostitution of Patpong Road despite promises to the contrary.  There she remains until she is selected by Howard Horner who renames her “Rose”.  Their relationship turns violent and a brutal confrontation occurs on a boat near the resort city of Phuket.  Rose escapes, hides for several years and then reinvents herself in Bangkok with her employment agency and new family.

        The concluding third of the book is an investigation by Poke into Howard Horner and the realization that Rose is just one of many girls Howard has taken and then killed.  As the lone survivor, Rose is a threat to his freedom.  There is an ultra-violent conclusion to this story which involves car chases, knives and multiple automatic weapons.  Leave it said that justice is served.

      This book was interesting on several levels.  It seems to be a thoroughly researched book and the descriptions of the Patpong Road environment are lurid.  As a sociologic statement on the treatment of young girls and women in Southeast Asia it is damning.  As a serial killer story it is fairly mundane and the characters of Howard Horner and his accomplice are pretty standard.  The Rafferty family is interesting and these are the strongest characters in the story.  I enjoyed reading this book, but I doubt that I will go back and read any of the others. 

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