I haven’t read any Angela Savage books before. Had I known The Half-Child was part of a series, I’d have opted to start with the first book, rather than join the adventures of Jayne Keeney, private detective, after they’d begun. Right from the start, however, I enjoyed the Thai setting of this novel and was intrigued by the mystery Savage presents. As I read on, I discovered more and more to like.
Although I’ve been a fan of both conspiracy stories and detective stories for light reading, I can usually take or leave ones with the degree of humour I found in Savage’s story. Alexander McCall Smith’s The Number One Ladies Detective Agency Volume 6 has never appealed to me to pick up and read, even though I enjoyed hearing excerpts on the radio. And while I enjoyed the ABC’s Phryne Fisher detective series, I haven’t raced out to read Kerry Greenwood’s witty Aussie historical detective novels, either. As I read The Half-Child, however, I warmed to its humour, especially as it plays out in Savage’s depiction of the protagonist Jayne’s relationship with her Indian offsider, Rajiv.
While Savage’s insights into the seedier side of touristic Thailand give rise to indulgent laughter, there is also a fair degree of pathos in the tragic plight of some of the sex workers. Flashes of political comment and insights in regard to inter-race relations, inter-country adoptions and the attitude of Australians to Asian immigrants in the 1990s are also woven through the narrative. The story held my interest till the end, the twists, as well as the characters and their relationships, avoiding cliche.
I’d recommend this book to readers who enjoy tom-boy Aussie female ‘anti-hero’ protagonists, quirky humour and exotic settings, and who don’t mind their detective stories giving them something more to think about than your average mystery.