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The Queen of Patpong: A Poke Rafferty Thriller    by Timothy Hallinan order for
Queen of Patpong
by Timothy Hallinan
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Queen of Patpong is the fourth (following A Nail Through the Heart, The Fourth Watcher and Breathing Water) in Timothy Hallinan's excellent Bangkok series starring half Irish, half Filipino American writer Poke Rafferty. Poke's small family includes tall, lovely, former go-go dancer Rose and their adopted street child Miaow. His best friend is honest cop Arthit, who is grieving over his wife Noi's recent death.

As The Queen of Patpong opens, Miaow (who insists on being called Mia) attends a private international school, where she is rehearsing the role of the spirit Ariel for a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Mia shows signs of being ashamed of her mother's origins, a trend exacerbated when a very dangerous ghost appears from Rose's past, a man named Howard Horner she had long believed dead.

If that were all this small, fragile family had to deal with, there would be no story. But Rose clearly has a history with the tall, handsome Horner. When he and his friend John approach in a restaurant, she immediately stabs Horner's hand with her steak knife. After Poke asks Rose who the man is, she replies 'Someone I thought I'd killed.' It's clear that he and his friend are mercenaries, 'The guys who kill people on behalf of the Land of the Free when a war is unpopular'.

There are threats and attacks and a number of emotional outbursts before everyone calms down, and Poke starts planning for his family's survival. Of course they bring in Arthit, which helps him as well, as he was wallowing in misery over his recent loss. Parallel with the modern story, readers learn in some depth of Rose's village childhood (when she was Kwan), how she came to Bangkok, worked in bars, came to meet and spend time with Horner - and almost died.

Poke's plan to bring Horner down is inspired by Mia's school play, which also has resonances with Rose's past. It's a good plan in which those the man victimized in the past have a big part to play. Readers will mentally cheer them on.

In his Author's Note at the back of the book, Timothy Hallinan tells us that 'This is a work of fiction, but it also isn't' and goes on to explain how what 'Rose goes through in her transformation from village girl to sex worker is commonplace' and that each bar girl 'is a real person who has been given a very narrow range of choices.' I enjoyed seeing Rose in more depth in The Queen of Patpong, which maintains the high quality of this exciting series, not to be missed by thriller fans.

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