Book review: The Dying Beach

the-dying-beachThere’s two things I love having on this site – special guests and crime fiction set in Asia.

Today’s post has both. 

Crime writer Robert Gott was kind enough to drop by and review my partner Angela Savage’s wonderful new book, The Dying Beach.

Gott is the author of the William Power trilogy of crime-caper novels set in 1940s Australia: Good MurderA Thing of Blood, and Amongst the Dead. More recently, he also authored the crime novel The Holiday Murders, out now through Scribe Publications.

Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach, the third novel in the series featuring Jayne Keeney, is a beautifully built book. Its parts slide together smoothly, with a satisfying, elegant ‘click’ of finely-tuned logic.

Apart from the working out of the whodunit component of the plot, The Dying Beach offers insights into Thai life and culture that go far beyond information gleaned from a Lonely Planet guidebook.

Savage knows this world well enough to negotiate the thousand subtle landmines a farang, or foreigner, might step on. It is fascinating watching what Savage calls, ‘the fraught dynamics of being a foreigner’, play out. Her private detective, Jayne Keeney, speaks fluent Thai which gives her, and by extension us, privileged access to the lives of the Thai people who inhabit the book. This is one of its great strengths. Villagers, police, market-stall owners and monks are all animated convincingly.

They’re not just local colour. Their voices are cleverly delineated by the deceptively simple device of peppering their speech with Thai words. This creates the illusion that whole conversations are in Thai, an illusion that allows us to see their strengths, vulnerabilities and foibles. Jayne Keeney’s own strengths, vulnerabilities and foibles are given fine treatment in this novel. She is a terrific creation.

In some ways her lover Rajiv becomes our way of seeing her clearly. This is invisibly done, but at a certain point I became aware that his exasperation with her, as well as his admiration, had become my exasperation and my admiration. This helps give real force to the tensions in their relationship and makes us worry when Jayne herself seems hell-bent on undermining it.

Savage has created a nasty villain in a man named Othong – and if you’re going to have a villain, he might as well be nasty. His presence in the book provides an element of menace that makes The Dying Beach a page-turner. There is more to this book than the solving of the crimes that keep the plot moving. Underpinning the narrative is an examination of the environmental challenges that face Thailand.

These challenges are given force and urgency by taking us into the lives of the local people who are most affected by decisions that are often made elsewhere, but which have devastating consequences at a local level. None of this is preachy or dully didactic.

It is seamlessly integrated into the story so that a reader comes away from The Dying Beach having had a great time, and having learned something too. What more can one ask for? Well, perhaps the next Jayne Keeney novel ASAP.

The Dying Beach is available now through Melbourne-based publisher, Text.

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