Behind the Night Bazaar (Jayne Keeney 1) by Angela Savage

A visit to the dark side… 

😀 😀 😀 😀

Jayne Keeney is an Australian woman working as a PI in Bangkok in Thailand. While she is recovering from an injury she received in the course of an investigation, she decides to visit her best friend Didier in Chiang Mai. After a rather strange and disturbing evening in the gay bars behind the Night Bazaar, Didier’s Thai lover, Nou, is found dead and horrifically mutilated. Worse still, Didier is accused of the crime by the police, who shoot him dead, claiming he was resisting arrest. Jayne is determined to clear her friend’s name, so must try to find out who really killed Nou, and why.

I shall start with my usual disclaimer – I know the author, Angela Savage, via our blogs, so you should assume that there may be some bias in my review. However, as always, I’ll try to be as honest as possible. Although Angela has written three novels in this series, this one was her début and is the first one I’ve read.

Despite the PI set-up, the book isn’t really a mystery – we find out who and why quite early on. The real story is about how Jayne navigates her way through the corruption at all levels of society in an attempt to force the authorities to clear Didier’s name. It’s set amid the seamy side of Thai life – prostitution, including child prostitution, police corruption, and foreign sex tourism. Savage pulls no punches, making it something of a grim read, grittier than my personal taste normally runs to. There is also some graphic sex and a sprinkling of strong language.

Didier has been doing outreach work to try to minimise the spread of AIDS not only in the gay community but in the wider Thai society. This has led him to become involved in a project to look at the underlying causes of the massive sex industry in the country and it’s here that the motivation lies. Savage raises some interesting questions, especially around the subject of foreign involvement in the sex industry, as both providers and users, and the attempts of foreign law enforcement agencies to intervene.

To be honest, the little I know about Thailand comes from the various horror stories surrounding sex tourism by sad old perverts and revolting paedophiles that have hit the British news over the decades and I had been hoping that I might get some insights into other aspects of Thai life (I assume there must be some!), but because of the focus of this plot, that wasn’t the case here. So to an extent it reinforced my existing impression of Thailand as a place that I would avoid like the plague. I will be interested to see if the later books in the series will widen the focus to let us see a more enticing side to the country.

It feels very well researched and the picture of this aspect of Thai life feels unfortunately all too believable. The character of Jayne is well developed – she’s strong without having superwoman tendencies, independent but not a loner and, while she’s courageous, we are also allowed to see her fear, which keeps her human and likeable. The writing is very good – happily it’s written in third person, past tense. The story flows well, never dipping into ‘soggy middle’ territory, and Savage manages to keep Jayne’s grief over Didier’s death feeling real without wallowing in the angsty morass so beloved of some of our contemporary crime writers.

Angela Savage

The book paints an excellent picture of how corruption in the police force allows child prostitution and other forms of sex slavery to thrive, but Savage also highlights that not all sex workers are forced into it – many choose the life because they can earn more that way. Without getting overly preachy, Savage through her characters suggests that poverty is the root cause – while I don’t disagree, I felt she took a rather more forgiving approach than I can to parents who sell eight and nine year old girls to the highest bidder, whatever the reason. The foreign sex tourists and the police come off as the baddies – personally I struggled to spot any “goodies”. I was a little disappointed that even Jayne seemed more concerned about Didier’s good name than about the abuse of children, although I do think that’s more realistic than if she’d been portrayed as a moral crusader – a foreign white knight riding to rescue the Thai people from themselves.

The subject matter meant that for me it was more of a thought-provoking read than an enjoyable one. As you may be able to tell from my review, it inspired me to rant about the sexual exploitation – no, let’s call it what it is – the rape of children (even though I’ve edited out about five hundred words of the worst of my frothing at the mouth – kind of me, I’m sure you’ll agree). But on the whole, Savage gets a good balance between the examination of the social issues and the telling of an interesting story, and none of the grittier elements feel gratuitous or voyeuristic. A well-written and intriguing look at the seamier side of Thai culture that will appeal to those who like their crime fiction dark. Recommended, and I look forward to seeing how the series develops.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

36 thoughts on “Behind the Night Bazaar (Jayne Keeney 1) by Angela Savage

  1. It is important that books such as this get written, to keep the horrors and atrocities against children and humanity in general firmly in the public gaze. It sounds as if this is a brave and accurate work and I applaud Savage – however, I don’t think this one is for me. I hope this book achieves the success it rightly deserves.
    Tip top review, as ever, FF!

    • Yes, indeed, and Angela had clearly researched the subject thoroughly which is always important in this kind of book. As you know, I really prefer to read the tough stuff as non-fiction and crime for entertainment, so I’m not really the best audience for a book of this kind. But I thought she did it very well and am looking forward to reading the others. What a talented bunch my blog buddies are! 😀

    • It does seem unfair because I’m sure there’s far more to the country than that. I’m hoping that as the series progresses we get to see other sides of the culture, although crime novels maybe aren’t the best way to see the good bits!

  2. So happy to hear that you’re glad you read this, FictionFan. I really like the Jayne Keeney character, and I think Savage does an excellent job of portraying late-1990s Thailand. You’re right, too, that she balances telling the story with making social points, etc.. I like this series very much, and it’s good to hear you thought it worth the read.

    • It’s a bit grittier than I usually go for as you know, but I thought she did a very good job of getting a balance and also of avoiding it feeling voyeuristic, which is often a danger with this kind of subject. I’m glad I finally got to read it, and am looking forward to seeing how the series develops… 😀

    • I thought she did the Thai setting excellently although the subject matter meant she was showing its worst side. But I’m looking forward to reading the others in the series… 😀

    • I think it must be tough doing research for this kind of subject but she handled it very well I thought – not sugar-coating it, but not being gratuitous either. A good debut – I’m looking forward to reading the others… 😀

  3. Sorry, my comment is unrelated to the post… I got distracted when I saw that you are currently listening to Endurance. I did that in December, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. With that book still fresh in my mind, I did not complain once when temperatures didn’t go above minus 15 once all last week!!!

    • I’ve only listened to the first few chapters so far – I’m so slow at audiobooks – but so far I think it’s excellent. He’s really bringing the crew to life as individuals and I love all the extracts from diaries and so on. Glad to hear you enjoyed it! Ha – yes, it puts our half inch of snow into perspective, doesn’t it? 😉

  4. It’s sad that Thailand is so known for its sex industry (which is definitely a real issue there) because it is a very beautiful country. Sounds like a thought-provoking read and it would be interesting to see where this series goes.

    • It’s odd because my visual sense of Thailand (from TV and pics only – I’ve never been) just doesn’t match at all with my sense of the sleazy culture. I know there’s bound to be much more to it than just the sex industry, but unfortunately it only ever seems to get mentioned over here in that context. Maybe I should seek out a book that looks at it from a different perspective. This was a good debut and I’m looking forward to reading the others in the series. 🙂

      • I think it really depends on what part of the country you visit and what you seek out. If you’re out at bars and clubs, even nicer ones, you’ll probably come across some sleazier activities. Iwas in Thailand as a kid so my family just avoided certain areas and I don’t remember noticing much of it. (Granted, I’m sure my parents worked to avoid it.)

        • When I think about it, I suppose that’s true of a lot of places. I know that as young kids my Dad was always careful about where we went when we visited Paris, and as we got older he gradually let us see more of the sleazy areas of that city…

  5. I had never heard of this series or book and I’m very intrigued. We have some friends who live in Chiang Mai or they do most of the time. He is a friend of ours from our high school days and he went as a missionary to Thailand probably 30 years ago and met her, a native Thai. Anyway, they have mostly lived in Thailand but come back to the States now and then for sabbaticals. Two kids, both grown now. She is lovely and wonderful and he is such a good guy – always has been. Anyway, the setting is interesting, but I’ve talked with them extensively about the sex trade culture in Thailand. Thanks for featuring this and I’ll take a look at it.

    • How interesting! It would be intriguing to hear what you think of it then, if you get a chance to read it some time, and see if it ties in with the impressions your friends have given you. I know there must be more to Thailand than just the sex trade but unfortunately that’s the only context it ever seems to get talked about over here…

  6. Thank you for a great review and of a series I’d like to try with a different setting to my normal UK/US crime fiction novels. It sounds as though Angela Savage does a good job of balancing the particular issues with the sex trade and corruption with telling the story although, like you, I think I might find the bent towards being understanding in respect of those parents a little hard to bear.

    • I think this is more your kind of book than mine to be honest because I know you like when a book looks at social issues along with the crime element. I do think she got a good balance and was glad that it wasn’t gratuitous about the child sex stuff in any way. I know I’ve never suffered from real poverty, but even so I find it hard to understand how any parent could sell their child into sex slavery at any age but especially so young…

  7. This doesn’t sound like something I’d particularly enjoy, but I can’t help admiring a work that doesn’t bog down in the bulky middle. Those of us prone to write by the seat of our pants (without the benefit of an outline) have to guard against this malady. Another well-written review, FF, and I wish your author-friend much success!

  8. I agree with you that it seems like all depictions of Thailand include child sex abuse or mistaking men (boys?) for women in sex work, even including the second installment of Bridget Jones’s Diary in which Daniel accidentally pays for a Thai boy when he wanted a woman. One novel I read set in Thailand that isn’t about sex abuse is called Currency by Zoe Zolbrod. It’s partially a crime novel, so you may enjoy it! Here is the Goodreads description:

    • Yes, it must be sad when that’s what your country is best known for, but they do seem to welcome all the creeps from around the world so long as they have money.

      Thanks for the link – it looks interesting, but I’m afraid animal trafficking would set me off as much as child prostitution… I have to think of my blood pressure… 😉

    • Yes, even though I tend to go for less gritty crime fiction, I think there’s a real need for these subjects to be highlighted. I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes in the later books… 🙂

    • Yes, it’s a difficult subject but she handles it very well – sometimes I find books about things like this come over as quite voyeuristic but I didn’t feel that at all her. I’m interested to read the others in the series…

    • Aw, thank you! I must admit I find it difficult, but nearly every friend I’ve reviewed is still a friend! 😉 This one is grittier than my usual too, but I’m looking forward to seeing what subjects she covers in the follow-ups…

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