We are not, I know meant to judge a book by its cover but even if I had known nothing about this novel I think I’d still have been just a little bit more…interested…in Angela Savage’s THE DYING BEACH than in most of the other books adorning my shelves. Eschewing the tired tropes of modern crime novel covers – the anonymous dark alley, the running man in silhouette, the half-face of a beautiful woman – its bright solid colour and unusual images suggest the possibility of something more exotic than the usual fare.
The content of the novel more than lives up to the expectation set by its engaging cover. It is set in Thailand in the mid 1990’s where Jayne Keeney, an ex-pat Australian, has been living for five years. She stumbled into a career as a private investigator but is now operating a successful business with Her business partner and lover Rajiv. The couple are on holiday in the resort town of Krabi as the book opens but their trip takes on a sour note when they learn that Miss Pla, the tour guide who they’d enjoyed so much a couple of days earlier, has been found dead. Although considered an accidental drowning Jayne can’t imagine the woman she met, an accomplished swimmer and diver, dying in that way and so can’t resist looking into the case which puts Jayne and Rajiv on a collision course with some very unsavoury characters.
There’s not much official interest in Pla’s death, or those which follow it, until Jayne and Rajiv make some startling connections to her past. Their presence in Krabi and interest in the death is a catalyst for one particularly unhinged character to take a series of bizarre actions which I’d almost suggest added an element of comic farce to events but for the fact they’re so alarmingly grim. The more traditional private eye element of the story sees the pair uncover some dirty secrets about some local development and its environmental impacts. There’s really not much let up in tension or suspense right from the outset but still Savage manages to weave in lots of fascinating details about life in Thailand. The fact that both Jayne and Rajiv (who is an Indian ex pat) are outsiders in the culture allows this to happen seamlessly so you don’t quite realise until the end that you’ve learned lots as well as been thoroughly entertained. I particularly liked the fact that the serious environmental issues the story raises are not depicted simplistically or with the patronising superiority that such stories are often guilty of when told by outsiders.
Again bucking a modern trend in crime fiction THE DYING BEACH manages to tell a complicated and at times very dark story through the eyes of two reasonably well-adjusted investigators. Of course they have their personality flaws but there is no sign of the loner alcoholic sporting a bitter ex-wife and/or estranged children here and it is refreshing. They make a good team, each bringing different skills to their professional pursuits and are likeable both as individuals and as a couple. Jayne is used to being on her own and struggles at times to remember that she must now consider Rajiv’s opinions and ideas in both her personal and professional decision making. At the same time Rajiv occasionally lacks confidence that Jayne is really committed to him, especially when the case brings them into contact with an Australian man who clearly is attracted to her. Watching the pair work out the complexities of their new relationship added an extra layer of enjoyment to the book for me.
THE DYING BEACH has it all: an exotic, evocative setting; terrifically drawn characters including good guys you can’t help but like and a story that manages to be thought-provoking and an edge-of-your-seat ride at the same time. Highly recommended.
Here’s a link to my review of this novel’s predecessor, THE HALF-CHILD or perhaps you’d like to hear Angela Savage discuss the novel on Radio National last month
THE DYING BEACH was the 15th book I read for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge
Publisher: Text Publishing 
Length: 339 pages
Format: trade paperback
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