Review: The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan

As I threatened to do earlier, here’s a review of a book that really took my breath away. Though it will not be on sale for several weeks yet, I’m sure you could pre-order it through your favorite independent bookseller.

The plot is relatively simple (for this excellent series). Rose is threatened by a man from her past, a man she thought she killed years ago when she worked as a prostitute and he systematically wooed her – so he could coax her to a remote place and kill her. Her husband, Poke Rafferty, and his good friend Arthit discover this man has probably killed lots of women over the years, but has protectors in high places.

The real heart of the book, though, is Rose’s story. As she confronts the man who tried to kill her, she faces her past: her childhood in an Isaan village, where her father schemed to sell her, her initiation to the bar scene in Bangkok, the community of girls who school one another in survival skills, and a handsome man’s seduction, leading to a terrifying confrontation. Rose’s story is framed by her adopted daughter’s struggle to figure out her place in the world. She’s ashamed of her dark skin, of her mother’s past, of anything that sets her apart from the kids at her private school. She is able to find her way to herself through learning her mother’s story and through her role as Ariel in a school production of The Tempest.

This is an amazing book: an honest and utterly absorbing depiction of women’s lives in Bangkok, showing their strength in the face of huge odds. And the writing is just lovely on every page. I don’t know how Hallinan is able to probe the emotional lives of his characters without it becoming overwrought or sentimental, but he does, with pitch-perfect prose. Highly recommended.

7 Responses to Review: The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan

  1. Keishon says:

    I am excited you enjoyed this one and will look out for it. I have two of his books on my ereader. He has a series I think going. Is this a stand alone? Sounds like it. Great review. It hooked me.

  2. Barbara says:

    Actually, it’s the fourth in the Poke Rafferty series, but Poke takes a bit of a back seat in this one. I’ve enjoyed all four, but this one really knocked my socks off.

    Since I’m not a read-in-order person (it doesn’t bother me to jump into the middle of a series or read the second after the tenth) it’s hard for me to say whether it’s necessary. That said, I read the first some time ago, then read the second and third before this one, and unlike most series, I didn’t get tired of the voice or find things becoming repetitive.

    • Timothy Hallinan says:

      Thank you, Barbara — for all the reasons I’ve already written you about, this is an especially rewarding review for me.

      And the thing about reading them in order — I used not to think about it, and I think anyone could read my first series (Simeon Grist) in any order at all. But these books have a child in them, and in some ways she’s the emotional center of many of the stories — and kids change much faster than adults do. At the least, I think people should read NAIL THROUGH THE HEART before reading BREATHING WATER because of the reappearance in BW of Superman, who protected Miaow when she was first abandoned to the streets and because the end of the book marks a sort of parting for her, an end to that life.

      Anyway, blah blah blah. And thanks.

      • Barbara says:

        I was so happy when I saw that kid return! I missed him.

        And I was thinking of the changes Miaow (Mia) goes through and how, if you didn’t know all that, the way she’s trying to shed her past in this book wouldn’t be as poignant, nor would her Ariel performance be so thrilling.

  3. Carrie Keyes says:

    Tim Hallinan is a fantastic writer (and writing coach). His accolades are much deserved.

  4. Judy Bobalik says:

    I found out about Tim Hallinan last year when everybody was raving about BREATHING WATER. So far I have read the first two and have BW waiting and which I will finish before August. Tim is my favorite find of the year. Made even more special because he seems like such a nice man.

  5. Thanks, Carrie (are you writing>) and thanks, Judy.

    Miaow, now trying to become Mia, is the character I love most to write and the one who comes most easily to me, and I have no idea why. I have no daughters and I never had a sister. What I know, from life experience, about little girls, isn’t enough to fill a salt shaker. But that little girl is inside me, and she’s always impatient to get out. I think, if the series were discontinued, as it might be if QUEEN doesn’t sell some extra copies, I’d miss writing Miaow more than any character who’s ever passed through me.

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