Angela Savage, Behind the Night Bazaar (ebook: Melbourne, Text Publishing, 2006) 4 stars
Opening line: The sluggish Bangkok traffic forced Jayne Keeney to slow to a crawl at Siam Square.
Behind the Night Bazaar is the first novel in the Jayne Keeney series by Australian author Angela Savage, and was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Best First Book Award in 2007. It’s one I’ve been meaning to read for ages and am glad I finally have, as it’s an excellent debut that vividly evokes its Thai setting. As a bonus, it’s distracted me from the cold of the British winter and triggered some happy back-packing memories from my youth.
Jayne Keeney is an Australian private investigator based in Bangkok, who is pulled into a murder investigation when visiting her good friend Didier, an HIV-outreach worker in Chiang Mai. Certain that the authorities are guilty of a cover-up, Jayne sets out to expose the truth behind the case and to right some wrongs.
Among the many things I liked about this crime novel were the depiction of Jayne as an independent woman and highly capable investigator who speaks flawless Thai (being bilingual is an essential asset for her work); the inspiration Jayne takes from crime classics such as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple during her investigation (even as the narrative draws on the conventions of hard-boiled crime); the wonderful evocation of place and the insights we’re given into Thai culture (oh the food!); and last but not least, the guest appearance of a diva academic…(I promise we’re not all like that).
The author also explores larger social issues, such as HIV and the sex trade (drawing on her own time in Bangkok as head of the Australian Red Cross HIV/AIDS sub-regional programme), and I was impressed by the way that these were integrated into the main narrative. Savage takes care to avoid stereotyping, providing a nuanced examination of difficult issues, such as why women might opt to become sex-workers. Notable too, are the rounded depictions of the villains in the novel, which show us the flawed logic they employ to justify their crimes.
In sum, The Night Bazaar is a highly impressive opener, and I’m very much looking forward to the next novel in the series, The Half Child.
Angela has an author/crime blog that’s a great read, and has recently posted her crime picks of the year over at Pulp Curry – including the rather intriguing Australian/Icelandic novel Burial Rites.
I really enjoyed this too (just finished it in my final push to finish the Global Reading Challenge), and it was refreshing to find a PI series I liked. Keeney definitely reminds me of VI Warshawski, as Kathy D. commented before I started.
Hi Rebecca – yes, I’d agree: definite shades of VI, and I’m really looking forward to sampling more in the series.
Ah, the Global Reading Challenge. I need to check in and make sure that I’ve covered all areas. Fingers crossed as time is running a bit short!
I have this one on hand and plan to read it in 2014. I expect to enjoy it as much as you did. Nice review.
Mrs. P. – I so enjoyed this novel. It’s good to hear that you did, too, and in my opinion, you’re in for a treat with the rest of the series. 🙂
Good to hear, Margot. Some happy Christmas reading lined up…
I’m glad Jayne has found a new fan…I’m very fond of her myself. One thing i have come to really admire about the series is that the lead character manages to be interesting and engaging without having to suffer the familiar tropes such as a broken relationship and addiction.
Interesting and engaging: very well put, Bernadette. I really enjoyed Jayne’s company, and her self-assurance (though she’s not perfect, which would of course be dull). And yes, I agree that it’s refreshing to have a lead investigator who isn’t at rock bottom or on their way there!
I concur, too, in the opinions of Jayne Keeney. She is a feisty, smart, bold protagonist, who is independent and manages to be quite witty in the process of an investigation.
The next book The Half-Child is a good one, which will only bring on the urge to read the third one in the series The Dying Beach, which brings in environmental damage, yet keeps the investigation and story firmly fixed on Jayne.
The books are also educational. I probably learn more about Thailand than I ever knew, and the points about geography, flora and fauna send me scurrying to the Internet to learn more.
A great series, which I hope skyrockets in readership.
And, I, agree, too, that Angela Savage’s blog is very interesting, especially when it deals with issues, such as women writers and issues in Australia.
Thanks, Kathy. You mention Jayne’s wit, and I did enjoy the humour in the novel too (should have mentioned this in my review). I’m very much looking forward to reading the next two, and as you say, there’s much to learn as well – something I very much valued in Behind the Night Bazaar.
There is a comment by Didier, which so gets to the essence of the matter (or part of it) in Thailand and so many poor countries, about poverty.
Yes, I remember that discussion between Jayne and Didier – very illuminating.
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