Category Archives: Angela Savage

The Half-Child

We love a good guest review here at Pulp Curry and today’s is about a book very dear to me, Angela Savage’s The Half-Child. For readers who don’t follow Pulp Curry on a regular basis, in the interests of full disclosure I need to declare that Angela has been my partner in life (and crime) for the last 20 years. Her book, The Half-Child, is also a great read. Many thanks to Sulari Gentill, whose own crime novel, A Few Right Thinking Men, was published in 2010 by Pantera Press.

I am a greedy reader.

When I opened The Half-Child, Angela Savage’s second Jane Keeney crime novel, I looked forward to reacquainting myself with the streets of Thailand, about which Savage writes with an intimate knowledge and affection.

I wanted once again to be shown the colour, the contrast, the cultural crater of a place where West has hurtled into East.  I wanted to see past cliché: the neon, the sleaze, the confronting corruption, to the beauty of an ancient culture and a tenacious and adaptive people. On top of all this I wanted intrigue, excitement, perhaps a little romance, and definitely some humour.  I did start out by saying I was greedy.

The Half-Child completely satiated my literary gluttony and then offered me dessert!

What Savage served up was a story set primarily in the resort town of Pattaya, Thailand, where Jane Keeney investigates the death of a young aid worker.  The novel, particularly for those who have had children, presents the heart-wrenching issues around overseas adoption.

Savage handles it all with non-judgmental compassion.  Rather than give the reader a trite outcome of good and bad, Savage shows us the sadness and uneasiness on both sides of the coin.  She makes us realise that we accept things from the developing world that we would not tolerate in our own country, that the term “better off” is unfairly weighted against the poor, but that sometimes Western concepts of social justice have no place in the harsh reality of the developing world.

Savage also subtly draws upon those common motivations in the hearts of mothers from both East and West.  Mayuree, the unwed mother of a half-child is determined to “…hold her head up high enough to protect [her child] with her shadow”.  I think of this line every time I leave my sons for some work commitment.  Motherhood, and perhaps life in general, is about making choices.  Savage’s book brings home how much harder those choices are for some.

Despite the tragic issue at the centre of this novel, the story is far from grim.  Jayne Keeney is comfortable and natural in this world.  Through her eyes we see it without cultural judgment and as a result we also see humour in the darkness.  Savage has a keen eye for the absurd and not only was I often giggling aloud whilst reading, I found myself thinking of scenes from The Half-Child and grinning insanely at later (often inappropriate) moments.

Jane’s penchant for slipping into the guise of religious zealot simply by responding to everything with “praise the Lord” makes me laugh every time I think of it.  I liked Jayne Keeney in Behind the Night Bazaar (Savage’s first novel), I felt really connected with her in The Half-Child.

This latest novel also introduces us to Rajiv Patel, who becomes a “Watson” to Jayne’s “Holmes”.  He is to say the least, endearing.  He softens, challenges and supports Jayne.  The dynamic between them is beautifully written…a friendship, a partnership and something more.  Again Savage flouts gender conventions without it being a simple and self-conscious reversal of social roles.

In the end, as I closed The Half-Child, I felt well nourished.  I am already hungry for another taste of Jayne’s world and am heartened to hear that Angela Savage is hard at work on the third Jayne Keeney novel.

The Half-Child and its predecessor Behind the Night Bazaar are both so much more than detective stories.  My philosophy on books is admittedly simple.  Make me think and you’ll have my respect, make me laugh and I’ll be you’ll have my friendship.

The Half-Child has both.

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David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight

I am not going to let the fact that I have not read a book stand in the way of publishing a review of it, especially when the book in question sounds as interesting as the second novel by West Australian-based author David Whish-Wilson.

This review was originally appeared on the blog of my partner in crime Angela Savage, whose own book, The Half Child, has recently been released by Text Publishing.

Line of Sight is set in Perth in 1975 and is based on real events surrounding the unsolved murder of South Perth brothel owner Shirley Finn. In Whish-Wilson’s novel, the victim is celebrity brothel madam Ruby Devine whose body is found in her car, abandoned on a Perth golf course. Like Finn, she was shot at close range four times in the back of the head.

Superintendent Frank Swann formed a friendship with Ruby Devine when he worked as a detective in Kalgoorlie some ten years earlier. Though prostitution was illegal, Kalgoorlie was ‘famous for its prostitutes’ and Swann, adopting a harm reduction approach before it was fashionable, took steps to control rather than suppress the industry. However, as he makes clear to the Royal Commission into Matters Surrounding the Administration of the law Relating to Prostitution, which opens as the novel begins:

“It was not my practice to solicit monetary of sexual favours from Ruby Devine, or from anyone else…I am on the record as saying that there has never been a time in the history of this state when prostitution and some of the policemen who controlled it haven’t come to a financial understanding. I can only assume this is still the case today.”

In the Western Australia of Whish-Wilson’s novel, nothing happens without a financial understanding. The state is on the cusp of a mining boom and the price of doing business is twenty thousand dollars in cash, ‘payable to the Minister for Police himself’. That Ruby Devine’s murder goes unsolved is no surprise to Swann given the same people who’d killed her are leading the investigation. When Swann takes the stands against his fellow cops and accuses them of corruption, the stakes are too high to let him get away with it.

Line of Sight is a gripping, tense thriller, peopled by credible characters. Swann’s investigations bring him into contact with sex workers and street kids — his own teenage daughter is missing — whose work as heroin mules may be connected to Ruby’s death. The reader is also taken inside the head of the Victorian magistrate Justice Partridge, who is forced to play out the Royal Commission even knowing it’s a farce, and whose health is failing. Another thread follows a nameless hired assassin as he stalks his victim through Perth’s suburbs.

Whish-Wilson does an excellent job of evoking the Western Australia of the 1970s where the locals set themselves apart from the rest of the country, and operate with their own set of rules, where corruption is synonymous with business and the wealthy rule with impunity. Take this reflection from Patridge after a dinner with the WA Premier and his cronies at the local Freemasons Lodge:

“What had most surprised Partridge was the almost nationalistic fervour with which the men regarded their state, They seemed uninterested in the recent events in Canberra, had made little mention of the sacking of the federal government by the Queen’s representative, something Partridge took as evidence of their fierce antipathy towards the eastern states. It was a sentiment that showed through under the gentility of their private-school accents, which had become broader the longer the evening continued.”

Whish-Wilson links these attitudes to the state’s origins:

“The first colonial building was a jail, and when the free men hadn’t been able to make a go of it, the whole colony was turned into an open prison, populated by screws and cons, johns and janes, and nothing in between.”

Swann is the story’s moral centre, a reminder that people, while never perfect, have choices. A major part of the tension in the book hangs on whether Swann will find his daughter and give evidence to the Royal Commission before he is killed.

There is a moment towards the end where Swann says to the Royal Commission, “I would just like to remind you all that Ruby Devine was the mother of three children. I hope that one day they will know justice”.

Shirley Finn was also the mother of three children and the novel is dedicated to her son, Shane. After thirty-five years, they still have justice in their sights.

Line of Sight by David Whish-Wilson is available now from all good bookstores. Published by Viking Australia, rrp $29.95.

Victorian Premiers Literary Awards 2010: the results are in

The results are in for the Victoria Premier’s Literary Awards.

After being shortlisted in the category of Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer, my manuscript Cambodia Darkness and Light unfortunately didn’t get the gong. That honour went to Peggy Frew for her work, House of Sticks.

But in a surprise announcement, Michelle Aung Thin, the other shortlisted writer in the unpublished manuscript category and myself, walked away with Unpublished Manuscript Fellowships. These include a financial stipend and a workspace at the Wheeler Centre. Supported by the Wheeler Centre and the Readings Foundation, these fellowships are new addition to the awards and I’m thrilled to have received one.

Thanks to Mark Rubbo for sponsoring the fellowships and to the Wheeler Centre for putting more flesh on the bones of the competition’s long-standing commitment to emerging writers.

And while I am at it, congrats are also in order for Peter Temple who took out the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction for Truth. It’s not every day genre fiction wins major awards and that’s two strikes Temple’s racked up. Hopefully, his success will further cement the status of crime writing in Australian literature.

The awards ceremony itself was a blast. The crowd, most of whom were live tweeting the proceedings, was great. I particularly enjoyed meeting Lisa Dempster, Program Manager for the Emerging  Writer’s Festival and Angela Meyer, whose blog Literary Minded has a great wrap of the proceedings. It’s not every day my partner Angela Savage and I get tagged as night’s cutest couple, and in glorious sepia tones no less.

As to where it all goes from here with my manuscript, hopefully it’s a few more steps towards eventual publication.

That’s why it’s great to now be in the very capable hands of Benython Oldfield of Zeitgeist Media Group. Yes, I have an agent. I’m really looking forward to working with Benython, whose agency represents a wide range of writers whose work has an Asian theme, including a number of authors from the region.

Is Philip Marlowe spinning in his grave?

Now it’s official.

Yesterday my crime novel, Cambodia Darkness and Light, was short listed in the category of best unpublished manuscript by an emerging writer in the 2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

The judges said the following about Cambodia Darkness and Light:

Ex-cop Max Quinlan is working his third missing person’s case, and he’s already out of his depth … He’s in Cambodia, on the trail of disappeared Melbourne gem-trader Charles Avery, hired by his deep-pocketed sister. Avery is the kind of man ‘everyone had met’ but ‘no one knew’ – and he’s deeply enmeshed with the Khmer Rouge. This is a fast-paced, richly atmospheric spin on the Chandler-esque disillusioned gumshoe, keenly informed by the turbulent politics and history of Cambodia.

It’s not everyday you get your work compared to one of the masters of crime fiction, Raymond Chandler. Hopefully, he’s not spinning in his grave too much at the suggestion that my Vietnamese Australian ex-cop turned missing person’s investigator has anything in common with Philip Marlowe.

Best of luck to the other two shortlisted writers in the unpublished manuscript category. Peter Temple’s crime novel Truth is among the books shortlisted for the Vance Palmer fiction prize. Hopefully, its inclusion will continue to push crime fiction, particularly, Australian crime fiction, further into the literary mainstream in this country. You can find the full shortlist in all categories along with all the judges comments, here.

The winners will be announced on September 28.

As anyone who has tried to get their first book published will tell you, it’s a long road. I’m thrilled with the shortlisting and hope it’s the next step on the way to Cambodia Darkness and Light eventually seeing the light of day on bookshelves.

Interestingly, my wonderful partner and crime writer Angela Savage was the recipient of the prize for unpublished manuscript in the 2004 awards. This lead to the publication of her first book, Behind the Night Bazaar. Her second book, The Half Child, also featuring the Bangkok-based female PI Jayne Keaney, has just been released with Text and is available in bookstores. Jayne’s second outing sees her embroiled in an adoption scam in the sleazy southern Thai town of Pattaya. It’s a great read.

And while we’re on the subject of prizes, a huge congratulations to Australian author Garry Disher who has picked up a Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction for his book, Wyatt. A review of this book, the seventh featuring the professional criminal and hold-up man, Wyatt, featured on Pulp Curry earlier this year (if you haven’t seen it you check it out here). After receiving considerable international praise, it is great to see the Wyatt books get the attention they deserve locally.

I’m interviewing Garry about Wyatt, the process of writing and the state of crime fiction in Australian for the next issue of Crime Factory, due to hit your computer screens in a few weeks time.