More awards news in Aussie crime writing

InTheMorningIllBeGoneMcKintyAdrian McKinty’s IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE was announced last night as the winner of this year’s Ned Kelly Award for best Australian crime novel. It is a brilliant novel about which I have previously banged on at some length so all I will say at this point is congratulations to Adrian. While I am sure it is enjoyable to win any award, I imagine it is all the sweeter when you know you have triumphed in a seriously strong field.

Head over to the Australian Crime Writers Association site to read the judges’ comments and see who won in the other categories last night, then read Adrian’s thoughts about his win. After you’ve done that make your way to your favourite purveyor of literature and snag copies of IN THE MORNING and all the other shortlisted titles to your shopping basket. It’s an excellent collection of contemporary Australian crime writing.

  • Garry Disher, BITTER WASH ROAD (a whistleblower cop’s punishment is duty in rural South Australia where corruption looks like allowing the murderer(s) of a young girl to walk free)
  • Kathryn Fox, FATAL IMPACT (a local forensic procedural that outshines many of its international competition)
  • PM Newton, BEAMS FALLING (if The Wire were a book and set in Australia it would be this one; a more harrowing depiction of modern policing you are unlikely to read)
  • Stephen Orr, ONE BOY MISSING (a missing child in small-town South Australia fails to generate the usual media frenzy but does attract the attention of one jaded but doggedly determined cop)
  • Angela Savage, THE DYING BEACH (as above…a PI tale without alcoholics set in exotic Thailand’s recent past which is fast, funny and thought-provoking)

Awards news in Aussie crime writing

While I was busy being knocked flat by a killer virus (OK it didn’t actually kill me, I just wished it would for a while) in the past few weeks both our major awards for crime writing announced their shortlists and one of them has even announced its winner. So, a belated congratulations to all the nominees.

Davitt Award for best crime novel by an Australian woman

◾Honey Brown, DARK HORSE (a compelling suspense novel with a genuinely surprise ending)
◾Ilsa Evans, NEFARIOUS DOINGS (a funny light-hearted tale about the mysteries beneath the surface of small-town Australia)
◾Annie Hauxwell, A BITTER TASTE (a dark tale of desperation set amidst modern London’s underclass)
◾Katherine Howell, WEB OF DECEIT (a classic procedural which keeps a frenetic pace while managing to depict the real impact of crime on all who are touched by it)
◾Hannah Kent, BURIAL RITES (a haunting work which the author calls speculative historical biography about the last woman hanged in Iceland)
◾Angela Savage, THE DYING BEACH (a PI tale without alcoholics set in exotic Thailand’s recent past which is fast, funny and thought-provoking)

DarkHorseBrownHoney21306_fThough I’m not quite convinced Burial Rights really belongs in the crime genre, this is an exceptionally strong field showing the depth and diversity of Aussie women’s crime writing. The winner of this award (announced last weekend) was Honey Brown’s DARK HORSE and it is a superb novel so congratulations to Ms Brown but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you rush out and procure all six novels. For pictures of the awards night and information about winners in the other categories head over to the Sisters in Crime website.

Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel by an Australian writer

The winners of the 2014 awards will be announced this coming Saturday as part of the Brisbane Writers’ Festival. The shortlisted books in the best novel category are

  • Garry Disher, BITTER WASH ROAD (a whistleblower cop’s punishment is duty in rural South Australia where corruption looks like allowing the murderer(s) of a young girl to walk free)
  • Kathryn Fox, FATAL IMPACT (a local forensic procedural that outshines many of its international competition)
  • Adrian McKinty, IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE (a darkly funny locked-room mystery set against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s troubles)
  • PM Newton, BEAMS FALLING (if The Wire were a book and set in Australia it would be this one; a more harrowing depiction of modern policing you are unlikely to read)
  • Stephen Orr, ONE BOY MISSING (a missing child in small-town South Australia fails to generate the usual media frenzy but does attract the attention of one jaded but doggedly determined cop)
  • Angela Savage, THE DYING BEACH (as above…a PI tale without alcoholics set in exotic Thailand’s recent past which is fast, funny and thought-provoking)

I didn’t manage to write reviews of all this list either (note to self: must try harder) but again this is a terrific lot of books and I have no hesitation in recommending them all. For judges comments about the shortlist and information on the nominees in the other Ned Kelly Awards categories head over to the Australian Crime Writers Association website

For once I have read all the books on both the ‘best novel’ shortlists for the country’s major crime writing awards and find myself able to sincerely recommend each and every book. Yay for Aussie crime writers.

Review: THE DYING BEACH, Angela Savage

My co-host Kerrie is currently sailing the oceans on long cruise from the US to Australia so I will post all her reviews of all the Aussie crime fiction she manages to consume while on her trip

  • TheDyingBeachSavageMFormat: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 417 KB
  • Print Length: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Text Publishing (June 26, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English

Synopsis (Amazon)

A new case for expat private investigator Jayne Keeney.

As Jayne and Rajiv holiday in Krabi, Jayne can’t stop her mind straying to thoughts of the future: a successful business, perhaps even a honeymoon. Who would have thought she could be so content?
But then their tour guide’s body is found floating in the shallows and no one can explain the marks around her neck.

Jayne and Rajiv are pulled into a case that the police have already decided isn’t one: a case that will pull at the seams of their fledgling relationships and lead Jayne into grave danger.

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar, won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlett Stiletto Award and has twice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards.

My Take

Jayne and Rajiv’s newly formed partnership of Keeney and Patel, private investigators, is severely tested when they agree to investigate the suspicious death of their tour guide. Jayne is really too used to making decisions without reference to others. Rajiv on the other hand believes Jayne is far too impulsive and doesn’t take into account the costs of the time she spends investigating. Jayne is only too willing to admit that she has made almost no profit as a private investigator so far.

The novel is set against economic and social issues besetting modern Thailand, particularly foreign and Thai businessmen trying to make quick profits without due consideration of the environmental impacts of their schemes. Villagers too are losing traditional rights when incomers seize on land that appears to belong to no-one. Others are worried by Thai locals becoming so heavily reliant on tourist income, and by the almost automatic degradation of the local way of life.

I was impressed in this novel by the author’s empathetic depiction of village life and of Thai customs, of the responsibility felt by village elders, as well as the detailed explanation of the social and economic issues surrounding the murders. Angela Savage takes us a little away from the beaten track, out of Bangkok, to areas that have tourist potential, but where change/modernisation will come at a price.

My rating: 4.5

Review: THE DYING BEACH by Angela Savage

TheDyingBeachSavageWe 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.

awwbadge_2013Here’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 [2013]
ISBN: 9781921922497
Length: 339 pages
Format: trade paperback

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Ned Kelly Awards – short list announced

Announced 8 pm Tuesday 2 August

Best First Fiction

Alan Carter Prime Cut Fremantle Press

David Whish-Wilson Line of Sight Penguin Books

P.M. Newton The Old School Penguin Books

Best Fiction

Angela Savage The Half-Child Text

Geoffrey McGeachin The Diggers Rest Hotel Penguin

Chris Womersley Bereft Scribe Publishing

True Crime

Geesche Jacobson Abandoned- The Sad Death of Dianne Brimble Allen & Unwin

Ross Honeywill Wasted Penguin

Lindsay Simpson & Jennifer Cooke Honeymoon Dive Macmillan

 S.D. Harvey Short Story Award

Robert Goodman Southern Hemisphere Blues

A.S. Patric Hemisphere Travel Guides: Las Vegas For Vegans

Details of this year’s Ned Kelly Awards ceremony to be held as part of the Melbourne Writer’s Festival.

A difficult reader’s choice

As I mentioned back in May I am a member of  Sisters in Crime Australia and am therefore eligible to vote in the Reader’s Choice category in this year’s Davitt Awards. Never one to take voting duties lightly I was a little overwhelmed by the number of eligible titles. At that time I had read only 6 and a half of the eligible adult fiction titles so how could I possibly make an informed vote? Given I had no chance of reading all the eligible titles in the time available I decided not to fret too much, though did resolve to get my hands on as many of the books in the adult fiction category as I could given the limitations of book-buying budgets and waking hours in which to read.

I have now read 12 of the 25 eligible adult fiction books and to be honest almost all of them would be deserving winners. I have chosen my favourite (by the merest of margins) but I really wouldn’t mind if any of the others that I’ve liked was to win instead. However, my vote has gone to

DEATH MASK by Kathryn Fox: Although I thought the start a bit slow this book has one of the most creative storylines I’ve encountered in ages, focusing on sexual assaults committed by sporting stars. As with all the very best crime fiction it is about much more than the crimes it depicts; examining the psychology of team sports from all angles in a thought-provoking way that is far-removed from how we normally the subject addressed in the media. I thought it topical, non-sensationalist and utterly compelling.

Here are the others I’ve read (in alphabetical order):
  • A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN by Sulari Gentill: A delightful historical mystery set against a fascinating backdrop of social and political turmoil in Australia in the 1930’s. A young man of a wealthy background gets help from his left-wing friends to investigate the murder of his uncle and the book has a great setting, warm-lively characters and the historical setting is interesting (my rating 3.5)
  • COLD JUSTICE by Katherine Howell: The re-opening of the investigation into the death of a teenager 19-years earlier explores the idea of people’s pasts and how they might feel differently about events they witnessed or took part in with the benefit of age and distance. It is brilliantly plotted and full of compelling characters and is the best (to date) of a terrific series (my rating 4.5)
  • DEAD MAN’S CHEST by Kerry Greenwood An intelligent cosy mystery set in 1920’s Australia this book sees private detective Phryne Fisher and her household head to the seaside for a rest. Of course they encounter some mysteries to solve including the bizarre bandit threatening the long-haired ladies of Queenscliff and the sudden disappearance of a servant couple. It’s terrific to see  the latest book in a long running series receive the attention to detail and quality story telling that the first novels received (my rating 3.5)
  • KISS OF DEATH by P.D. Martin The fifth book in this series sees ex-pat Australian FBI Profiler Sophie Anderson helping Los Angeles police with an investigation into a murder that appears to have ritualistic elements that could be associated with a religious cult. This evidence, plus one of the psychic visions that Sophie sometimes has, leads her to look into the world of self-proclaimed vampires. I liked the procedural and investigative aspects of this book but did find the supernatural elements a bit over the top (my rating 3)
  • LET THE DEAD LIE by Malla Nunn: The second book of Nunn’s set in 1950’s South Africa follows the story of Emmanuel Cooper who, under the country’s increasingly draconian apartheid laws has recently been classified non-white and so is unable to work officially for the police anymore. However while undertaking some unofficial surveillance work for his old boss he finds a young boy’s body and is compelled to investigate the case. What I enjoyed most about this book is its depiction of the impact of his changed situation on Emmanuel Cooper which felt very realistic in addition to being heart-breaking (my rating 4)
  • MATTER OF TRUST by Sydney Bauer: Boston-based lawyer David Cavanagh goes home to New Jersey to defend an old friend who is accused of murder. The novel is decently paced but has a bit too much of a tv-script sensibility for me to find 100% engaging. I’d have liked a little more depth to the characters and their motivations (my rating 2.5)
  • NAKED CRUELTY by Colleen McCullough: This is the only one that I’ve read that I would be disappointed to see win as I just don’t think it’s a great example of the crime writing craft. Set in the US in 1969 and involving the investigation of numerous crimes including a series of brutal rapes I found it historically anachronistic and pretentious (my rating 2)
  • THE HALF-CHILD by Angela Savage: (my rating 4): In the mid-90’s Jayne Keeney is an Aussie living in Thailand and working as a private detective. She is asked to investigate the apparent suicide of a young Australian volunteer some months earlier and uncovers several nasty villains in the process. It’s a terrific novel with a great sense of its setting and a very thoughtful and nuanced plot (my rating 4)
  • THE OLD SCHOOL by P.M. Newton: The first (of what I hope is many) book to feature Detective Constable Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly, the book is set in 1992 in western Sydney and involves an investigation into some bones found at a building site. Newton does many things well but, for me, it’s the time and place captured to perfection that I will long remember in this tale that tackles such big issues as the search for identity, the treatment of Australia’s indigenous people and the nature of police corruption. (my rating 4)
  • WATCH THE WORLD BURN by Leah Giarratano: A woman dies from apparent spontaneous combustion at an up scale Sydney restaurant and then other odd, possibly related, events start happening around the city. Detective Jill Jackson is meant to be studying for her Masters Degree but is drawn into the investigation for personal reasons. As always I loved the way Giarratano draws her characters in a very believable and thoughtful way and the story is one that takes several unexpected turns. (my rating 4)
  • VIOLENT EXPOSURE by Katherine Howell: Paramedics are called to a domestic disturbance at the suburban home of Suzanne and Connor Crawford one night only to have the couple explain the incident away as nothing more than a disagreement. The next evening Police and paramedics are again called to the address only this time Suzanne Crawford is dead and her husband is missing. This is a fast-paced book with credible, recognisable characters and a superbly complex plot. (my rating 4.5)
Davitt awards in the categories of best adult crime novel, best young fiction crime book and best true crime book by Australian women writers are chosen by a judging panel. The Reader’s Choice award, voted by members of Sisters in Crime, can go to any of the titles eligible for one of these three categories. All the award winners will be announced in October. For a full list of the eligible titles in all the categories you can see my earlier post on the awards.

As for which book will actually win the award I’ve no idea. I’m notoriously bad at predicting such things and am normally well out of step with the majority, whoever and wherever they may be. All I can say is good luck to all, including those I’ve not had a chance to read yet, and I feel very fortunate as a reader to have been presented with such a terrific range of crime writing by Australian women for my enjoyment and education in just one year!

Review: THE HALF-CHILD by Angela Savage

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

This book at Boomerang Books (Australian-based online store, does ship overseas)
This book at the Kindle store
This book at Kobo Books

My rating: 4/5
Publisher: Text Publishing [2010]
ISBN: 9781921656545
Length: 319 pages
Format: paperback
Source: borrowed from the library

THE HALF-CHILD, Angela Savage

Publisher: Text Publishing Melbourne Australia 2010
322 pages
Source: Local Library

Publisher’s blurb
Jayne Keeney is a fiesty thirty-something Aussie who has been living in Bangkok for many years. She has been hired to investigate the alleged suicide of a young Australian woman in a seedy Thai coastal town. Maryanne Delbeck was happy and harmless, her father refuses to believe she took her own life. Jayne immerses herself in the case, navigating the backstreet world of Thai ladyboys, monks, strippers, expats and corrupt officials.
Maryanne’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. Now her life is in danger, her case is still unsolved and she barely has time for dinner with her handsome new love interest, Rajiv. With love and death both circling, Jayne now has two cases to crack and very little time to do it.

My take:

Maryanne Delbeck was a twenty-one-year old Australian volunteer working for Young Christian Volunteers in Bangkok. The year is 1996. Less than five months after her arrival in Thailand Maryanne jumped from a hotel rooftop in Pattaya, falling fourteen storeys to her death. She had found work at the New Life Child Centre in Pattaya, an orphanage that prepares babies for international adoption.

Jayne Keeney decides the best way to investigate what caused Maryanne to jump is to volunteer at the orphanage herself.  In her gathering of relevant information she calls in favours from a friend at the Australian Embassy, from a new Indian friend Rajiv, and from Police Major General Wichit whom she assisted in a case involving his own daughter. As Jayne extends her net she realises she is looking at something much more organised than a young woman’s suicide.

I’m not an expert in Thai culture by any means but I have been to Thailand several times in the last 30 years, and spent time not only in Bangkok but also Chiang Mai and Kanchanaburi. Angela Savage’s settings and descriptions rang very true for me, and I thought a very credible flavour of Thailand came through.

The plot in THE HALF-CHILD is very credible, and well threaded. Angela Savage shows how a crime fiction author can get under the skin of another culture, and focus on social issues as well as a crime fiction theme.
A very good read from an Australian author worth your while to look for. I think you can read these books out of order – I had rather hazy memories of the previous title in the series, BEHIND THE NIGHT BAZAAR. See my mini review below.

My rating: 4.5

About Angela Savage (from Text Publishing)
Angela Savage travelled to Laos on a six-month scholarship in 1992 and ended up staying in Asia for six years. She was based in Vientiane, then Hanoi and Bangkok where she set up and headed the Australian Red Cross HIV/AIDS subregional program. Her love affair with Asia continues and she has returned many times since. Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. Angela lives in Melbourne.

Angela Savage writes (on her blog) about the launch of THE HALF-CHILD

Mini-review of
BEHIND THE NIGHT BAZAAR  (published 2006) My rating 4.5
Jayne Keeney, fluent in Thai language, is an Australian private investigator living in Bangkok. Her last investigation into a marital infidelity resulted in her being severely wounded and two weeks later, stitches out, she has arranged to visit her friend Didier de Montpasse living in Chiang Mai. Didier is gay and works on an HIV/AIDS awareness program. He and Jayne get on very well, drawn together by a love of crime fiction. Jayne and Didier go to meet someone in a gay bar behind the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. There Didier has an argument with his Thai lover who has a gambling problem. Later that night Nou, Didier’s lover, is discovered dead, in the bar, butchered and mutilated. Soon Didier is also dead, shot at home by the police who say he was attempting to escape arrest. Jayne is determined to prove Didier’s innocence and to find out who really killed Nou. The content of story seems to stem from Savage’s own experience in South East Asia when she worked for the Australian Red Cross in setting up an HIV/AIDS program in Bangkok. In some senses it presents a stereo-typed view of Thailand, particularly of Bangkok and Chang Mai, where the under-age sex industry seems to flourish, with Australians amongst those who feed it. On the other hand, there is an unmistakeable tone of authenticity, raising issues that we need to think about.
A Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Winner in 2004, shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Best First Crime Fiction in 2007.