The Queen of Patpong Author Timothy Hallinan

I’d like to welcome my guest Timothy Hallinan. Timothy has written ten published novels, all thrillers. A series of six mysteries he wrote in the 1990s featuring erudite Los Angeles private eye Simeon Grist is a cult favorite and is now becoming available in e-book form. Since 1981, Timothy has divided his time between Los Angeles and Southeast Asia, the setting for his Poke Rafferty novels: A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, THE FOURTH WATCHER, BREATHING WATER, and the upcoming THE QUEEN OF PATPONG. As of this writing, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG has already received “starred” reviews in two of the four major publication trades.

We are lucky to get two 25 years ago stories for the price of one! Timothy shares what he was doing 25 years ago, and also gives us the scoop on the past of his character, Poke Rafferty. Read his post below.

TIMOTHY: This is kind of fun – I hardly ever look back on my life, much less those of my characters.

Twenty-five years ago, in 1985, I was living in LA, New York, London, and Bangkok – the first three for business and the fourth for fun. I had a life that must have looked incredibly privileged from the outside: money coming out of my ears, my own company of about 30 people advising giant corporations about their television activities, all those houses, limousines, first-class flights everywhere.

And I was miserable, so miserable that I was using, to put it delicately, substances to get me through the day and other substances to get me to sleep at night. I could afford lots of substances, economically speaking, although my body had a different perspective.

And then, in 1987, I started sitting down at 7 PM wherever I was and writing a novel. And about eight months later, I finished it, and it was terrible. It had a great title, The Wrong End of the Rainbow, but it was all downhill from there. So I wrote another one and then a third, and I sold the third – it got me a three-book contract – and my life changed. Over the next seven or eight years, I phased out the business (and, inadvertently, a lot of the money) and became a full-time writer. And the substances disappeared, too.

Best thing I ever did. In fact, I really have only two regrets about my life – that I never had children and that I didn’t write that first, awful novel about ten years earlier.

The hero of my current series, Poke Rafferty, was twelve years old, living twenty-five years ago in a dreary little house in the middle of some featureless desert near Lancaster, California, with his uncommunicative father, Frank, and his voluble half-Filipina mother, Angela. He hated it there. As he describes it in the second book in the series:

“. . . everything was brown. The desert was brown, our house was brown – half the time, the sky was brown, courtesy of the smog Los Angeles sent us every day. Buildings were brown and square: flat roofs, small windows to keep the heat out. Nothing was ornamented, nothing was designed a certain way just because it looked good. It was like people went out of their way to make it ugly.”

But his life is about to change. In his parents’ bedroom is a metal box, battered, rusting, and always locked. One day, Poke – his real name is Philip, but he got the nickname from his habit of poking his nose where it didn’t belong – popped the lock on the box with a bobby pin and found in it the remnants of his father’s mysterious sojourn in Asia years before Poke was born: money from various Asian countries.

“I just saw the bills as pictures,” he later tells Rose, the Thai woman he will marry. “Clouds. Trees. Buildings with roofs that tilted up at the corners like prayers. Lakes with bridges over them, and the bridges looked like . . . I don’t know, like lace or something. Everything seemed to float. In Lancaster the rocks were heavy and the buildings were like bigger, heavier rocks. And I unfolded that money, and I was looking at a world where everything was light enough to float.”

Eventually, the pictures on that money, and the need to track his father who has disappeared once again into China, will take Poke to Asia, where he will take up live as an expatriate in Bangkok.

His wife, Rose, was six years old twenty-five years ago, living in a poverty-stricken village in northeastern Thailand, just starting school, and eleven years away from the life-changing discovery that her father intends to sell her into prostitution. That discovery is at the heart of the fourth book in the Poke Rafferty series, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, which came out on August 17.

I only hope I can continue to write the series long enough to look back again, twenty-five years from now, and thank so much, Stacy, for letting me do it this time.

Thanks for joining us, Timothy! It’s amazing the positive effects that getting on the right life path can bring. Check out THE QUEEN OF PATPONG on Amazon.

Life in Bangkok looks good for American expat travel writer Poke Rafferty and his little family – his wife, Rose, is happily running a domestics agency that offers bar girls an alternative to The Life, and their adopted daughter, Miaow, once an abandoned street child, is now enrolled in a good school and trying desperately to conform. And then, out of nowhere, comes the nightmare customer from Rose’s life in the bars, who he threatens not only their lives but their emotional relationships as well. To do battle with him, Rafferty needs to know more about Rose’s past, and there are things he may be unable to confront as we follow the path that took a shy village teen to Bangkok and turned her into the queen of Patpong.

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  1. Hi Tim! That’s great that you finally got on the writing path. Had you ever been interested in writing and telling stories before 1987, for example when you were growing up? Or did the idea to write something just strike you out of the blue one day? Did you always enjoy reading?

  2. Thanks for sharing your interesting and inspiring story. FWIW, I’ve noticed a lot of good writers didn’t have children, some intentionally, others probably not.

  3. I’m just reading Breathing Water now and loving it. You’ve inspired me to think about what my characters and I were doing twenty-five years ago, too.

  4. Thanks for visiting, Brenda and Neil. And Neil, if you think of anything regarding the events of 25 years ago, I’m taking guest posts for January and beyond!

  5. Tim is one of my favotie people. I love his Poke Rafferty series. It’s interesting to look back a what someone was doing 25 years ago, but I can r emember what I was doing 75 years ago. That was two years after I went through a tornado in Nashville, and I was creeping up on my tenth birthday.

  6. Thanks for stopping in, Chester. Thanks for sharing what you were doing 75 years ago — it’s funny the moments we remember. I remember creeping up on my tenth birthday also and being so amazed that I would be entering double digits.

  7. Thanks, Stacy and all of you. I wrote dozens of guest blogs in the whirlwind surrounding the release of THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, and this was the most fun by a wide, wide margin. It also reminded me that you never waste time when you go back and doodle around in your characters’ pasts — something will ALWAYS come out of it that you can use.

    Chester, you really are an amazing guy, a terrific writer, and much, much younger than the years you claim. Having met you on a number of occasions, I would have guessed you as twenty years younger than your post would indicate. And your writing is more energetic than mine.

    Neil, thanks a million. It’s always something special when a writer likes our work, because we know that he or she knows what kind of sheer blunt force goes into creating these stories that are supposed to flow so effortlessly across the page. The brother- and sisterhood of the keyboard — my favorite people.

    Brenda, I have a fictional child, Miaow, who is on the verge of getting into whole new kinds of trouble — in the next book she’s about to turn 13 or 14 (nobody knows, because Poke and Rose adopted her off the street). She combines the unearthly energy of that age with the absolute disregard for consequences that causes teens to make such disastrous decisions. She was seven (or eight) in the first book, and there are times when I think that the whole series is really about Miaow growing up.

    And Stacy, thanks to you for having me. I always wrote, just not for anyone else. I wrote stories about a character who was a more handsome, smarter, and much braver version of me, which is, of course, what I’m doing right now.

    This has been a great experience, and thanks for the invitation.

  8. My pleasure, Stacy. Thanks for having me.

Stacy Juba