With the publication of The Hot Countries in October 2015, Timothy Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series will be seven books long. The Queen of Patpong, which is the fourth Rafferty book, is one that I particularly like because it fills in Rose’s backstory so completely that it is easy to see how she became the strong woman that she is today.
Rose, a former Thai bar girl, by this point in the series is married to Poke and they are living rather comfortably and happily with Miaow, the little homeless girl they plucked off the streets and adopted as their own. As the book begins, Poke, who originally came to Thailand to write travel books, is already aware of much of Rose’s past but even he does not know how truly horrific her story is.
All of that suddenly changes, though, when a man Rose thought (and prayed) was long dead stops by her restaurant table to pay his compliments. Before that conversation ends, Rose has stabbed the man in the hand, Poke has been manhandled and humiliated, and the whole restaurant is in an uproar. But that’s only a taste of what the intruder has in mind for Rose, Poke, and Miaow. He has big plans for the family, and if he succeeds in carrying out those plans none of them will be around to talk about it when he’s all done.
Poke’s search for Horner (Rose’s nemesis) will take him to Patpong Road, the very heart of one of the most wide-open red-light districts in the world. This is a section of Bangkok both he and Rose know well. Rose, like so many young Thai women before her, escaped the dangers of life in her home village by signing on to work in one of the infamous bars in the district. And despite not having a real comprehension of the lifestyle she was signing on for, the statuesque Rose was such an eye catcher that, by the time she left the life, she could legitimately be called “The Queen of Patpong.”
Rose Rafferty’s story is typical of those of the thousands of young Asian women who get trapped in Thailand’s sex trade every year, and make no mistake about it, this industry is both as well organized and as corrupt as any crime syndicate in the world. Timothy Hallinan has done his research, and what he describes here is both fascinating and disturbing. Sadly, because it is sometimes the only means of escape from an even worse fate planned for them by their own families, there is no shortage of young women willing to try their luck on Patpong Road.
The Queen of Patpong, however, is much more than a primer on Thailand’s sex trade. It is also a very fine thriller about three or four characters readers have come to know – and love – over the length of the series. And I have to tell you…the ending of The Queen of Patpong is one of the most satisfying of its type I have experienced in a long, long time.