In the mid 1990’s Australian Jayne Keeney has been living in Thailand for a number of years and works as a private detective, aided by her ability to speak Thai and French as well as her native English. As this book opens Jayne is hired by an Australian man Jim Delbeck to investigate the death of his daughter Maryanne. The girl was volunteering at an orphanage run by a Christian group in Pattaya, a seedy coastal town south of Bangkok, when she apparently committed suicide some months earlier. Her father fervently believes that she would not have killed herself and he wants Jayne to find out the truth.
This is the second book of Savage’s to feature Jayne Keeney but the first I have read and it was a genuine pleasure to do so. Jayne is an interesting character but never so quirky or odd as to be unbelievable. Her work as a detective and life as an outsider in a foreign land both have a real ring of truth to them which made it easy to be drawn into the compelling story. In order to learn more about Maryanne, Jayne decides to volunteer at the same centre the girl had been working at which leads her into what at first seems like a tangential investigation. This takes the book in a touching but tough direction which resulted in an atypically surprising and satisfyingly complex resolution.
Savage has used the conventions of a crime novel to explore some important social themes and political issues including the role of international adoptions in poorer countries but does so in a subtle, non-judgemental way. It would have been very easy for this kind of story to fall into that peculiarly pious category of novel in which ‘westerners’ denounce their own heritage and embrace in its entirety whatever local culture they are writing about. But Savage’s approach is far more interesting and engaging. There are helpful, intelligent people from all the cultural backgrounds she depicts and the nasty, villainous types also cross the cultural boundaries. Go figure.
I really had no expectations of this book, having read little about it, but as it was on the list of titles eligible for this year’s Davitt Awards and as my library had a copy on its shelves I decided to give it a go and am absolutely thrilled to have done so. It is a real treat of a novel offering engaging and believable characters, a thoughtful and intelligent plot and a subtle, complex insight into the culture in which it is set. There is also some delightful humour, much of which is provided by Jayne’s budding relationship with Rajiv, a young man of Indian heritage who has taken on looking after Jayne’s favourite bookshop while its owner, Rajiv’s uncle, is in hospital. It is from Rajiv that Jayne learns that heroes can come in a variety of forms. I highly recommend this novel to all.
Kerrie has already provided her thoughts on THE HALF-CHILD
My rating: 4/5
Publisher: Text Publishing 
Length: 319 pages
Source: borrowed from the library