I suppose there might be a bit amusement for me in the idea of a travel writer becoming a private investigator and a bit of a tough-guy hero in Bangkok, but plenty of other readers and critics have also enjoyed the first three Poke Rafferty thrillers by Tim Hallinan. Hallinan’s latest installment in the series is The Queen of Patpong.
The novel is unusual in that for the better part of the midsection, the main character Rafferty takes a back seat to the back story of the title character. What the reader gets is a view into the common origin story of a Bangkok prostitute. It’s an intense story in itself and adds the necessary depth of character for Rose, Rafferty’s girlfriend previously, who has now become Poke’s wife. A dramatic chapter of Rose’s past comes back to haunt her and as well as Rafferty, their adopted daughter Miaow, and police friend Arthit.
The Queen of Patpong delivers the promised page-turner thrills with a delightfully dangerous predator villain and offers a nonjudgmental and yet unapologetic look at the lives and dangers of sex workers. The reader is truly behind the scenes in Patpong.
Whether you are a Bangkok fan or a first-time travel to the City of Angels, there is that additional thrill of the details of the setting, details of place and culture that you will recognize (or soon discover). The odd extra eastbound lane on the “wrong” side of Sukhumvit near Ratchaprasong has a key role at one point. Landmarks in Silom Road and Patpong itself are easily recognizable.
Be that as it may, The Queen of Patpong is an illuminating passage through a darker side of Thailand with edge-of-the-seat pacing. And all of it ends with a climax easily pictured in the imagination as a scene from a perfect film.