THE QUEEN OF PATPONG – Edgar Nominee For Best Novel

The Edgar Award nominees were announced today, January 19, in honor of the birthday of Edgar Allen Poe.  The Edgar is the mystery novel equivalent of the Academy Award and a nomination is far ahead of one for a Golden Globe.

The Queen is an extraordinary book that tells the story of Rose, one of the three main characters in the Poke Rafferty series.  Rose’s story is the story of all the beautiful children of Thailand who must leave their homes and their desperately poor families to earn money on Patpong Road in Bangkok, selling themselves to the men who use them but never look at their faces.

NOTE: The author does not mire the story with the details of child pornography.  The Poke Rafferty series is about the people of Bangkok who go about living their lives just like everyone else and, like everywhere else, make bad decisions with serious consequences.  Poke is a travel writer who finds himself cast in the role of fixer for people who dug themselves a hole that is only going to get deeper.

THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, A POKE RAFFERTY THRILLER is a title that is something of a misnomer.  It is the fourth book in the Poke Rafferty series by Timothy Hallinan, but while it is definitely a thriller it isn’t really a Poke Rafferty book.  The book belongs to Rose, Poke’s wife, a former dancer in a bar, whose outstanding beauty made her the queen of the red -light district of Bangkok.  And that isn’t quite right either.  Would any woman be happy with a title that describes “what” she is when the “who” she is goes so far beyond that sad bit of geography that has come to define, in many minds, Bangkok?
Rose is extraordinary and so is her story.  Both owe their existence to the great talent of  the author who has written a book that defines the experience of the brutally poor young women who are forced to sell their beauty and, in many unfortunate cases, their souls so that they can support their families and perhaps, hopefully, keep their younger sisters from having to make the same deal with the devil.

Hallinan choreographs chapter one so that readers who are just discovering the series with THE QUEEN OF PATPONG have enough information to understand the underside of Bangkok.  For those who are familiar with the characters, chapter one is funny and a bit reassuring after BREATHING WATER.  Chapter two lulls readers as they go to dinner with Poke, Rose, and Miaow who is caught up in her role as Ariel in her school’s production of THE TEMPEST.  It is a glimpse into the life of a happy family until, suddenly, it isn’t.  A man approaches and places his palms flat on the table in front of Rose.  Rose is terrified. Rose was sure he was dead because she was sure she had killed him.

Howard Horner is a nightmare from Rose’s past.  The next day, when Poke discovers evidence that Horner knows where they live and when Miaow spots Horner’s associate, John, stalking them, the stakes have been upped and Poke has to become proactive in protecting his family.

Poke leaves Miaow in the cab and follows John to a the Beer Garden, where he runs, literally, into Pim, a girl from the north who is following the same path from poverty as Rose did.  When Poke asks Pim to see if John is inside, things go badly, and Pim becomes a hostage.  Poke takes care of John; Poke takes Pim home.  Emotions are unbridled, glass breaks, doors slam, voices are raised, tears flow and, because Pim reminds Rose of herself, the girl whose name was Kwan, Rose talks about her past to save the girl and to save her family.

It is in this part of the book that Hallinan’s writing soars.  As Rose tells her story, she disappears and becomes Kwan, the very tall village girl called, disparagingly, Stork.  Kwan is beautiful although she does not know it.  She is very bright, something she does know.  Her teacher and a man from the Children’s Scholarship Fund come to her home to offer her father money to allow Kwan to stay in school, to even move on to college.  But her father refuses and with that refusal Kwan realizes that he has already sold her to a brothel in Bangkok.  Rather than becoming a vitual slave, Kwan decides to leave town quietly with Nana, a village girl who has been working on Patpong.  Rose continues her story….

When she is finished, Poke knows that Rose and Miaow will not be safe as long as Howard Horner is free to roam Bangkok.  His claim that Rose broke a promise is true and for a man with Horner’s ego, she needs to pay for that with her life.  Poke brings Pim along as he hides his family in Arthit’s house.  Once the women are safe, Poke begins to put into action a plan borrowed from THE TEMPEST.

The author makes frequent references to THE TEMPEST throughout the novel.  The first section is entitled “Caliban” after the half-man, half-monster in the play.  Horner is Caliban, who believes himself the victim of gross injustice.  The second section, the story of Kwan/Rose is entitled “Sea Change”.  In the play, Shakespeare writes: “Of his bones are coral made:/ Those are pearls that were his eyes:/Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea change.”  A sea change is transformative, it alters the nature of the person who undergoes the stress that creates the change.  Kwan becomes Rose.  The simple, innocent child of poverty becomes the queen of Patpong Road.  The last section is “The Storm”.  In the play it is a storm, the tempest, that throws the characters onto the island.  In Hallinan’s hands, the tempest created by Horner seems at first to wreak havoc on the family bonds that have been forged among Rose, Poke, and Miaow.  But the sea change applies to the family, not just to Rose.  At the end, there are no longer any doubts.

THE QUEEN OF PATPONG seems to be transformative for the author as well.  For the nearly one hundred and forty pages that are Rose’s story, Hallinan is writing from a woman’s perspective and the result is natural, flowing.  I read it, it seemed, without taking a breath.

In the end, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG is laid to rest.  In the telling of her story, Rose proves to herself, and to Miaow, that the bar girl no longer exists, perhaps she never did.  Rose was a victim of circumstances and the sins of others.  Because Rose had to live the life of the bar girl on Patpong Road, Miaow will not have to do so.  The street child has been saved because the bar girl had the strength to bring about her own salvation.

She saved Poke when they met.

If THE QUEEN OF PATPONG is made into a movie (and a really good movie it would be) the climax will leave audiences cheering.

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15 Responses to THE QUEEN OF PATPONG – Edgar Nominee For Best Novel

  1. kathy d. says:

    I would so much like to read this book, but reading about the real horrors that happen to women and children around the world just distresses me beyond belief, as in the movie “Water,” directed by Deepa Mehta, about the “widows” who were exiled to live in total poverty in India, including girls, separated from their parents.
    And I know that this highly acclaimed and well-written book doesn’t gloss over the reality.
    So, if the ending brings the story full circle and there’s some validation for the main characters or some victory for them, then I could read their story.

    • Beth says:

      Kathy, Tim Hallinan writes about a family, Poke, Rose, and Miaow, the street child they adopt. Poke knows Rose’s past and he suspects Miaow’s experience is the same. What the author does not do is make the details of their pasts the focus of the stories.

      If someone sees Bangkok in the title and reads one of Hallinan’s books looking for salacious details about the pornography industry in Thailand, they are going to be disappointed. Poke defends the defenseless who are beaten down by institutionalized poverty and the fact that “the poor we always have with us.”

      The reality that the author does not gloss over is the poverty that forces the poor into choices that aren’t choices at all. Tim Hallinan, like Leighton Gage in BLOOD OF THE WICKED, focuses on the disconnect between what is right and what is real.

      • bheat2615 says:

        Hi Beth. Yes I have read all of the Poke Rafferty series. I found Nail Through the Heart by accident and have followed the series since.
        After Queen of Patpong I felt the need to read more of Hallinans writing and read Crashed. I really enjoyed that, I cant wait for more in the Junior Bender series. In an email Hallinan said there was another instalment of the Poke Rafferty series due out later this year. Apparently he has had some trouble with his publisher so it may only be released as an ebook. However since Queen has been nominated for an Edgar award hopefully there will be some publisher eager to print the sequel to it. Either way, an ebook will be fine for me and my kindle. But I do hope he finds another publisher.
        I haven’t read any of the Simeon Grist novels yet. I suppose I feel that having read a lot of his recent work, his much older work is unlikely to live up to the same standards. Although I will undoubtedly end up reading them anyway once my current projects finished and I have time. Are they woth reading simply as a fan of Hallinan, or do they stack up just as well as his recent work?

        I’m glad I found your blog too.

      • Beth says:

        Jack, I read the Simeon Grist novels as they were published. I am in the process of re-reading the Simeon series and they are just as good the second time around. There is a lot of violence but there is also a lot of humor. I don’t think Tim can write anything less than terrific.

        To prove that point, may I suggest that you go to

        This is the web address of a blog done by Tim and six other mystery writers, including the UK’s Dan Waddell. Tim posts on Sunday, Leighton Gage writes about Brazil on Monday, Cara Black has Tuesday covered in France, Yrsa Sigurdardottir offers insights into Iceland on Wednesday, Michael Stanley (the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) post about Africa on Thursday, Dan takes over on Friday, and Jeff Siger rounds off the week with Greece on Saturday.

        If you have not yet discovered any of these writers you are in for a treat. Leighton, Michael and Stan, and Jeff write police procedurals. Cara and Yrsa, like Tim and Dan, have as their protagonists accidental mystery solvers. Another bonus is that they all write series, so if you are just meeting them you have wonderful reading waiting for you.

        Back to my main point*: the blog posts on Murder Is Everywhere are not connected to the books of each of the authors. They write about the culture and the things that happen in the countries in which they have set their books. They are unfailingly interesting and they are the first thing I read each morning.

        Thanks for posting.

    • bheat2615 says:

      If Beth has not already convinced you I urge you to read the book. Unlike many novels which deal with such issues Hallinan does not constantly pull at the heart strings. Primarily he writes an exciting, engaging and funny thriller. Secondly he writes about real life struggles that poor or otherwise unfortunate people have to live with.
      This is not a sob story. If you have not read it already I strongly recommend that you do.

      • Beth says:

        bheat2615 – Have your read the other books in the Poke Rafferty series? They are all wonderfully written with such a strong sense of place.

        Hallinan has also written an ebook for Kindle, CRASHED, and an older series featuring Simeon Grist, a sort-of private investigator as the protagonist. Simeon is being resurrected in a new book that I am very much looking forward to reading.

        I am glad that you have found this blog.

  2. I’m delighted that Tim Hallinan’s work has been nominated for an Edgar
    He is a writer of exceptional talent and ability.
    And this recognition was long overdue.

  3. Beth says:

    Leighton, I definitely agree about Tim Hallinan’s writing. The Poke Rafferty series is one of the best.

    It should be your turn soon.

  4. Lil Gluckstern says:

    So glad to have found this. You put into words some of the things I couldn’t-about the transformation of the whole family , and Poke’s friend, Ardit, as well. And of course, I think this certainly worthy of the Edgar nomination.

    • Beth says:

      Lil, I am very happy that you have found the blog. I hope you visit frequently.

      THE QUEEN OF PATPONG is certainly worthy of the Edgar nomination and I feel the same way about BREATHING WATER.


  5. kathy d. says:

    I can read about the poverty, but don’t want to read about the sexual exploitation of women and children in detail.
    So I think I can read this book.

  6. Winchester says:

    That’s lots of great information. Thank you so much for that. I look forward to lots of great reading. And if you say that the Grist series is just as sharp as the rest of Tim’s writing, I especially look forward to that.

    Robert 😉

    • Beth says:

      Hi, Robert –

      The Grist series is very, very good. Because I liked them so much, I was delighted to find the Poke series when it appeared.

      Simeon has an off-and-on girlfriend. Poke has a family. Simeon is California to the core. Poke is finding his way through a very different culture.

      Simeon and Poke are different in the external circumstances of their lives but both have a strong commitment to the people they care about and both are honorable within their definitions of that word. Simeon is a bit more prone to violence but Poke will do whatever he has to do if his family is threatened.

      I enjoy both and I am looking forward to whatever Tim is getting ready now.

      Almost forgot CRASHED. Another great book with a protagonist who is completely different from Simeon and Poke. If there is something of the author in Simeon, Poke, and Junior Bender, Tim is definitely an interesting personality.

  7. Hi, everyone —

    Beth throws a good party, doesn’t she?

    Thanks to all who said nice things, and — oh, thanks to all. When you’re a semi-obscure writer laboring all alone eight hours a day (violins in background) any attention is welcome.

    And despite the violins, I mean that.

    Tim Hallinan

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