Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #16
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on May 2, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
It s Christmas, and Phryne has an invitation to the Last Best party of 1928, a four-day extravaganza being held at Werribee Manor house and grounds by the Golden Twins, Isabella and Gerald Templar. She knew them in Paris, where they caused a sensation. Phryne is in two minds about going. But when threats begin arriving in the mail, she promptly decides to accept the invitation. No one tells Phryne Fisher what to do. At the Manor House, she is accommodated in the Iris room, and at the party dallies with two polo-playing women, a Goat lady (and goat), a large number of glamorous young men, and a very rude child called Tarquin. The acolytes of the golden twins are smoking hashish and dreaming. The jazz is as hot as the drinks are cold. Heaven. It all seems like good clean fun until three people are kidnapped, one of them the abominable child, and Phryne must puzzle her way through the cryptic clues of the scavenger hunt to retrieve the hostages and save the party from further disaster."
I have been having a hankering to visit with Phryne Fisher again, and this seemed like the time to do it. This is even a Christmas story – well technically a post-Xmas story, so it even seemed to fit with some of my other recent books. Even if late October does seems too early to talk about – or read about, the Christmas holidays.
When I finished this one, I tried to describe the story to someone, and got absolutely lost for words. I’ll have to do better here. One thing I will say for sure, when I finished I couldn’t imagine that this one had ever been filmed for the series. Wikipedia says that it WAS filmed, but the only thing that the filmed version and the book version have in common in the title.
This is not the same story – not at all.
Which doesn’t mean the book version isn’t interesting, and doesn’t make for a hell of a read. Bits of it occasionally read like an opium dream of Coleridge’s, but that does make sense. There are a LOT of drugs of all types in this story – and ALL of them were perfectly legal at the time.
Not that the police don’t involved in the end, and certainly not that Phryne doesn’t have sometimes to investigate from the very beginning, because both are certainly true. Drugs may not have been illegal in 1928 in Australia – but blackmail and murder certainly were.
The plot, and the subplots, and the counterplots, all take place at the “Last Best Party of 1928” – at least all the parts that take place after Ember the cat kills the poisonous coral snake who was all wrapped up as a Christmas present for Phryne.
Telling Phryne to stay away from something is probably the best way to get her to do the exact opposite – and so she does. That “Last Best” party is a country house party being thrown by the Templars, a famous, and infamous brother and sister who have an amazing amount of charisma, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of money, and a desire to surround themselves with beautiful people and over-the-top experiences.
Someone wants to kill Gerald, the brother of the pair. Gerald wants Phryne to figure out who is threatening him. It all sounds like rather a lark at first – spending a long weekend with the over indulged rich and the famous for being famous.
The Templars seem to be a lot like the Kardashians – but with more class – and much more style.
And it is a lark, until not one but two children go missing under very mysterious circumstances. And before Phryne learns that the person who plans to kill Gerald is a well-known, well-paid, and extremely well-trained assassin. One who seems to believe that toying with Phryne is all fun and games until she starts to win the game. And then she’s just one more bit of prey on his list.
But he’s also on hers – just as soon as she figures out who he is.
Escape Rating B-: I admit that I was hoping for something a bit lighter and brighter than this from Phryne. I should have taken the title as a clue that this wasn’t going to be as much of a romp as this series usually is.
There was something ineffably sad about this story. Not just because we’re watching a crazed serial killer plot in the background, although that’s part of it. A lot of songs and epigrams are used to introduce the chapters, and many of them invoked death, grief or both. This story is also set at the dying of not just a year, but of an era, even though the participants don’t know it.
And not just, as seems inevitable at the end of the story, the last of the Templars’ largesse, but also that this is set at the end of 1928. This really is, not just the “Last Best Party of 1928” but also the last, best holiday party of the “Roaring 20s”. The crash is coming, and it’s going to be a big one.
Part of why I think this story would be impossible to film is the sheer number of subplots. It makes me think of what a real country house party might have been like. There are so many events going on all the time, and so very many people who have small parts to play in some but not all of them.
Of course there are the acolytes surrounding the Templars, and all of the petty jealousies that crop up with large groups of people are vying for the attention of just two – while they are competing mostly with each other.
But there’s so much else going on. The themed party nights, the jazz players, the polo players, and the games. Oh the games. There are more parlor games being played at any point in this story than there are parlors in the biggest country house imagined.
It’s a portrait of a world that is gone. But the overabundance of activities means that the story doesn’t pay equal attention to every single one, and doesn’t wrap up all of its many loose ends.
And yet, when the story is over and Phryne returns to town in her beautiful Hispano-Suiza, it still feels like the whole farrago has come to a proper ending, complete for the overall picture if not the tiny details.
I still want to visit Phryne again, the next time I’m in the mood to hear Phryne’s very singular voice. A voice that is every bit as heady as the drinks she so lovingly describes – and imbibes.