Review of The Half-Child by Angela Savage (Text, 2010)

Jayne Keeney is a Bangkok PI who apart from her skills as an investigator, whose sharp observations as an outsider fill the pages of this terrific novel ('his eyes were amber, but not in an attractive way. As if his skull was full of beer'), is well qualified in the areas of 'drinking, smoking and inappropriate relationships' (my kind of heroine, exactly.) She is called to investigate the alleged suicide of a young Australian volunteer in a religious organisation, a woman who is described by everyone as being relentlessly cheerful and optimistic, a woman who writes banal 'g-rated' letters home to her family. Endeavouring to discover what might have tipped the volunteer over the edge (sorry for the cliche, but she died after falling 14 floors from her hotel), Jayne goes undercover in the charitable organisation that houses children whose parents can't care for them, and facilitates the adoption of orphans to families from the US, Europe and Australia.

Without giving too much away in terms of the plot, which has a brilliantly surprising conclusion, what Angela Savage does that is particularly interesting, and rewarding in this, her second Jane Keeney novel, is in the area of characterisation and point-of-view. Multiple perspectives are quite common in crime novels, but what Angela Savage has done here is far more ambitious than most. Rather than limiting her narrative to the perspective of Jayne, admittedly an outsider with 'special access', the story is told using a perspective that doesn't so much shift from character to character, as flow. Because of this the novel is much broader in scope, and deeper in insight. Each and every character is fully humanised, fully realised - we not only come to learn more about Thai culture, and the impacts these cultural differences have on the progression of the investigation, but also appreciate the position of Jayne, fluent Thai speaker and unsentimental reader of the streetlife around her, privy to the deeper meanings of the surface behaviour of the people she encounters, as any PI needs to be, but particularly one operating in an another culture. Savage's use of syntax and diction to differentiate each character, her use of Thai language alongside English, her nailing down of each of the many idioms she uses to both characterise, and equally importantly, move the story forward, is nothing short of brilliant. As is her central character, Jayne Keeney - clear-sighted, tough-minded, unsentimental and worldly-wise, but with a wicked sense of humour and a tender heart.

Available from all good bookshops, I'd recommend The Half-Child to anybody familiar with Thailand and its environs, but also to those who, alas, like myself, have never really been there. For more details visit Angela Savage's web-page www.angelasavage.wordpress.com

The Half-Child, Angela Savage, Text, 2010. 'Jayne (Keeney) has been hired to investigate the alleged suicide of a young Australian woman in a seedy coastal town. But Maryanne Delbeck's death is not the only mystery awaiting Jayne among Pattaya's neon signs and go-go bars. While working undercover at the orphanage where Maryanne volunteered, Jayne discovers something far more sinister...' From the dustjacket. 

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