Review: Unnatural Habits by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Unnatural Habits by Kerry GreenwoodUnnatural Habits (Phryne Fisher, #19) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #19
Pages: 348
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on October 1, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The decidedly raven-haired Miss Phryne Fisher returns to delve deep into the dark side of Melbourne, Australia.

It's 1929, and girls are going missing. Little, pretty golden-haired girls. And they're not just pretty. Three of them are pregnant, poor girls from the harsh confines of the Magdalene Laundry. People are getting nervous.

Polly Kettle, a pushy, self-important girl reporter with ambition and no sense of self preservation, decides to investigate and promptly goes missing herself.

It's time for Phryne and Dot to put a stop to this and find Polly Kettle before something quite irreparable happens to all of the missing girls. It's all piracy and dark cellars, convents and plots, murder and mystery...and Phryne finally finds out if it's true that blondes have more fun.

My Review:

I was looking for a book where I would sorta/kinda know what I was in for, and one in which I could sink without a trace for a few hours. I realized that I hadn’t looked in on Phryne for a while (my goodness it’s been over a year!) so I took myself off and into the next book in the series and I most definitely got exactly what I was hoping for.

The mystery, actually the multiple mysteries, in Unnatural Habits take Phryne to dark corners of Melbourne where a lesser woman would fear to tread – if she could bring herself to even acknowledge that she knew about most of them.

But Phryne doesn’t care what other people think about much of anything, including, most especially herself. So when she sees a young woman about to be beaten up by a brace of thugs in one of the less salubrious parts of town, Phryne does not hesitate even a moment to weigh up the possible consequences.

After all, she knows that her lover, Lin Chung, has assigned several of his men to keep watch over her when she travels into parts of town where angels and demons alike would fear to tread. So Phryne rescues the young woman, Lin Chung’s men “explain” to the bullyboys the error of their ways and Phryne finds herself in the middle of a case that begins with missing pregnant women not even the police are investing much effort in searching for.

When the tally of the missing grows to include actresses looking for a break, very young – and blonde – daughters of the middle class, and even the young woman Phryne rescued – who turns out to be a newspaper reporter hunting for her first big scoop – Phryne calls on her friends in some very low places indeed. Where she manages to air the dirty laundry of the princes of the church, laundry that seems to be wrapped around the mangles of the church-sponsored workhouse known as the Magdalene Laundry.

In the end, Phryne commits piracy – with more than a bit of help from Bert and Ces – in order to bring justice in a case that no one is willing to admit needed to be solved.

Escape Rating A-: Phryne Fisher is a fascinating character because her conscience is explicitly NOT the voice of society, her parents, other people or any kind of powers-that-be telling her what she SHOULD or should not be doing because she’s a woman. Or for any other reason whatsoever. Phryne does what she pleases, however she pleases, because she can. She’s been rich and she’s been poor and she’s very much aware that being rich is not only better but that it gives her license to do the necessary without worrying about anyone’s approval.

And that’s important to this case because the missing women she is looking for are so-called “fallen” women. The Magdalene Laundry was a real place, and like so many of the charitable institutions operated by the Catholic Church in many places, it was horrifically abusive. The women sent there were unwed mothers who were expected to work under slave labor conditions until they got close to their due dates, when they were shipped off to rural “lying in” homes that could be just as abusive until they gave birth. Their babies were taken away without the women’s consent and put up for adoption.  Or they were if they survived the cruel treatment inflicted upon their mothers.

That three of these women managed to escape before their babies were born isn’t a surprise. That no one seriously wants to look for them is unfortunately even less of one. The theories for their disappearance – as ludicrous as most of those theories are – cause Phryne to search among the demimonde of Melbourne to make sure that they’re not in a brothel – and equally that none of the brothels or other private houses of pleasure will be blamed for their disappearance – because both are all too possible. Likewise, no one is looking for the missing actresses, because actresses are assumed to be prostitutes whether they are or not.

That Phryne is not just acquainted with Melbourne’s fleshpots but likes the people who work in these establishments considerably more than most people of so-called “polite” parts of society is not a surprise for Phryne but certainly would be for anyone in the upper or middle classes. Part of what makes Phryne so refreshing is that her internal voice – and frequently her external one – is not just clever and witty but is unequivocally pragmatic and remarkably free of prejudice in regards to race, religion or sexual orientation. For the most part she takes people as she finds them. Her most scathing commentaries are saved for hypocrites, pretenders and fakers and I love her all the more for it.

I’m probably belaboring this point by now, but if you come to the Phryne Fisher books in the hopes of seeing more of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, you’re probably going to be disappointed. But if you’re looking at the books for a sparkling, witty historical mystery with a take-charge female protagonist who strides through her world doing her best to make it better by ignoring social norms, taking no prisoners and puncturing as many of the pomposities of the powers-that-be as she possibly can, then Phryne is still very much your cuppa.

She certainly is mine. So I’ll be back the next time I’m searching for Phryne’s particular brand of derring-do with Murder and Mendelssohn. There’s only one more book in the series (so far) after that, so I’ll be stretching this little pleasure out as far as I can stand!

Review: Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry GreenwoodDead Man's Chest (Phryne Fisher, #18) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #18
Pages: 259
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on November 9, 2010
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Dot unfolded the note. "He says that his married couple will look after the divine Miss Fisher...I'll leave out a bit...their name is Johnson and they seem very reliable." Phryne got the door open at last. She stepped into the hall. "I think he was mistaken about that," she commented.
Traveling at high speed in her beloved Hispano-Suiza accompanied by her maid and trusted companion Dot, her two adoptive daughters Jane and Ruth, and their dog Molly, The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher is off to Queenscliff. She'd promised everyone a nice holiday by the sea with absolutely no murders, but when they arrive at their rented accommodation that doesn't seem likely at all.
An empty house, a gang of teenage louts, a fisherboy saved, and the mystery of a missing butler and his wife seem to lead inexorably toward a hunt for buried treasure by the sea. But what information might the curious Surrealists be able to contribute? Phryne knows to what depths people will sink for greed, but with a glass of champagne in one hand and a pearl-handled Beretta in the other, no one is getting past her.

My Review:

“Miss Fisher was about to happen to someone again.” That’s according to Dot, Phryne Fisher’s companion/lady’s maid, when Miss Fisher, Dot, Phryne’s adopted daughters Jane and Ruth, and their dog Molly, arrive in Queenscliff, a lovely little holiday-by-the-sea town in Australia.

But Dot’s bit of internal monologue could easily serve as the opening for every book in the series, as well as every episode of the TV series that was based on it. Because the gist of pretty much everything is that Miss Fisher happens to someone, shenanigans ensue, and one or two bodies turn up.

A good time is had by all, including the reader and/or viewer as Phryne saves the day – or several days – in her own inimitable fashion, and then she swans off to happen to someone else.

That would be the very short version of the story. The details in the slightly longer version are what make this entry in the book series so much fun.

At first, the mystery in this entry is uncomfortably on the domestic side. Phryne has rented a house in Queenscliff from a casual acquaintance, expecting to arrive and find the house fully staffed and ready to welcome her and her entourage.

Instead, the house is empty, and not merely the staff are absent but so is all their furniture, the cupboard is completely bare and the back door is swinging open along with the back gate. But there’s no blood, no bodies, and it seems like nothing missing that didn’t belong to the staff, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson.

But there is one thing extra. The Johnson’s little dog, Gaston, is piteously searching through garbage trying to find enough scraps to survive on. The Johnsons doted on the tiny terrier as if he were their child, but somehow he got left behind. It doesn’t add up.

And the local constabulary doesn’t want to even attempt to make it add up. The Johnsons are gone, their effects are gone, the bitter old gossip at the end of the street witnessed the removal van come and take away all their furniture. Case closed.

But not for Phryne. Even before she gets her household organized, she’s on the trail of the missing couple. Along the way she finds a new member for her eclectic household, a scrum of unruly boys, a smuggling ring – and a surprisingly well-guarded pirate’s treasure.

Escape Rating A-: Just like yesterday, this was simply a case of the right book at the right time. I was looking for comfort reads so dipped into two series that I know will reliably pull me into their worlds and out of my own with a sigh of relief.

Phryne always delivers – a mystery, a bit of derring-do, a dead body – and a surprising amount of commentary on the world in which she lives – along with her honest contempt for a fair number of people in it.

I said in my review of Riviera Gold a few weeks ago that I’d love to be a fly on the wall at a meeting between Phryne and Mary Russell. They are contemporaries, both operating during the pre-Depression 1920s, both living in the same upper class circles – when they are not undercover on one mystery or another – and both women who are seldom shy about saying what they think, operating independently and not caring beyond the minimum necessary about what most other people think.

This particular entry in the series feels very domestic, for lack of a better word. Phryne and her family are on their own in Queenscliff, without the support of the redoubtable Butlers, the able assistance and occasional guard duty provided by Bert and Cec, or the sometimes reluctant assistance of the Melbourne CIB in the persons of Jack Robinson and Hugh Collins.

Not that Hugh doesn’t turn up before the end. But he’s not the one who saves the day – or as it turns out, night. That’s Phryne. That’s always Phryne. It’s her series, after all.

But in spite of the “walk on” role of the pirate’s treasure, most of what happens in this one is wrapped around the various households involved.

Not just Phryne’s, where they take to being on their own without any staff with a great deal of fun. It’s easy to forget that none of these women, Phryne, Dot, Jane or Ruth, began their lives in easy circumstances. Phryne may have money now, but she spent a lot of years dirt poor and has never forgotten. So, while it’s a lark to be on their own, it’s still streets above where any of them started.

And it does give Ruth a chance to try out her skills as a cook, something she wants to make a career out of. She does so well that the reader will salivate at the description of all the things she makes. There are even recipes in the back for those who want to try it for themselves.

But all of the households have a toehold in this particular mystery, from the Mason family next door, where a gang of upper class bullying hooligans is running around cutting girls’ ponytails and selling the hair, to the Greens at the end, where the local doctor’s house is ruled by the iron fist and screeching voice of his nasty, busybody mother-in-law – at least until she drops dead.

And then there’s the disorganized house of Surrealists, who may or may not know something about the various crime sprees in Queenscliff, but certainly know plenty about all the other goings on.

But no one expects that the local legend that the pirate Benito dropped a load of gold in the harbor is really true. And Phryne is certainly not planning to tell. After all, part of her scheme to find the missing Johnsons and out the smugglers involves faking the discovery of the pirate’s hoard. Letting out the secret that it’s real after all would mess up all of her plans.

One final note. I’ve had an absolute ball reading this series. I also loved the TV show. But by this point in the books it’s excruciatingly clear that the one has very little to do with the other when it comes to even the broadest details of any story. Readers will enjoy the books more if they keep them firmly separated in their minds from the TV series. They’re each marvelous, but in their own, very separate ways. Even if they both do start with the same story, Cocaine Blues.

Review: Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry GreenwoodMurder on a Midsummer Night (Phryne Fisher Mystery #17) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #17
Pages: 250
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on February 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Hon. Phryne Fisher, languid and slightly bored at the start of 1929, has been engaged to find out if the antique-shop-owning son of a Pre-Raphaelite model has died by homicide or suicide. He had some strange friends - a Balkan adventuress, a dilettante with a penchant for antiquities, a Classics professor, a medium, and a mysterious supplier who arrives after dark on a motorbike. Simultaneously, she is asked to discover the fate of the lost illegitimate child of a rich old lady, to the evident dislike of the remaining relatives.

With the help of her sister Beth, the cab drivers Bert and Cec, and even her two adoptive daughters, Phryne follows eerie leads that bring her face-to-face with the conquest of Jerusalem by General Allenby and the Australian Light Horse, kif smokers, spirit guides, pirate treasure maps, and ghosts.

My Review:

I was doing the bounce thing, where I kept picking up different books and bouncing off. It’s not that any of my choices were bad books, because honestly I didn’t get far enough to tell. They just didn’t grab me. They weren’t what I was in the mood for. Not that I could exactly tell what I was in the mood for!

When I’m in that kind of reading doubt, I reach for comfort. I reach for a book that I know will wrap me in its pages and transport to a familiar world with characters that I’ve become fond of. Having seen a Facebook post reminding me that the Phryne Fisher movie is in post-production, I decided it was time to visit Melbourne and see what Phryne was up to.

This particular adventure of Phryne’s involves two cases that aren’t in the least related to each other, as well as, let’s call them interludes, that seem to be coming out of nowhere – until they neatly tie one case up at the end.

One case is a suicide-that-isn’t, wrapped up in a treasure hunt that somehow leads to Blackbeard the Pirate and his lost treasure troves. The other is more prosaic and mundane, a lost child, a missing heiress, a spot of blackmail and a whole lot of not-so-petty theft. Stirred well with a nasty bit of family drama.

Escape Rating B: A part of me says that this was far from the most compelling of Phryne’s cases. At the same time, I was compelled to finish it in an evening. It was simply the right book at the right time for me.

I think that the reason that it worked so well was that it’s been a few months since I dipped into Phryne’s world. And while the cases aren’t as dangerous as some she’s been involved with, her voice sparkled in the solving of them.

Also, this particular story focused a great deal on Phryne’s relationships with the many people who have become part of her circle. The not-a-suicide case came by way of her socialist sister, who found common cause with red-raggers Bert and Cec, and had a great time doing their own little bit of investigating.

Sister Beth seems to be the book character for whom Aunt Prudence is the TV series substitute, and I must say I like Beth a whole lot better. Between the involvement of Beth and Lin Chung’s ingenuity in the resolution of one of the two plots, it’s easy to see why this was not one of the stories that was filmed.

On the other hand, the interactions between Phryne and her family-of-choice, particularly her relationship with her adopted daughters (yes, there are two in the books) and her appreciation of BOTH Mr. and MRS. Butler and their work for and with her, are quite lovely.

Dot’s foray into her own bit of investigation involving theater history and the keepers thereof was absolutely filled with bright spots.

To make a long story short, this is one of Phryne’s adventures that is marvelous for readers who are already involved in the books rather than just the TV series, and who are itching for a chance to visit with their friends.

I had a ball.

Review: Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Murder in the Dark by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in the Dark (Phryne Fisher Mystery #16) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #16
Pages: 274
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on May 2, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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."

My Review:

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.

Review: Death by Water by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Death by Water by Kerry GreenwoodDeath by Water (Phryne Fisher, #15) by Kerry Greenwood
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Phryne Fisher #15
Pages: 250
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on May 1, 2010 (first published 2005)
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The nice men at P&O are worried. A succession of jewellery thefts from the first class passengers is hardly the best advertisement for their cruises. Especially when it is likely that a passenger is the thief. Phryne Fisher, with her Lulu bob, green eyes, cupid's bow lips and sense of the ends justifying the means, is just the person to mingle seamlessly with the upper classes and take on a case of theft on the high seas - or at least on the S.S. Hinemoa, on a luxury cruise to New Zealand. She is carrying the Great Queen of Sapphires, the Maharani, as bait. There are shipboard romances, champagne cocktails, erotic photographers, jealous swains, mickey finns, jazz musicians, blackmail and attempted murder, all before the thieves find out - as have countless love-smitten men before them - that where the glamorous and intelligent Phryne is concerned, resistance is futile.

My Review:

In between yesterday’s big and marvelous epic fantasy (Spinning Silver) and tomorrow’s big series-opening epic fantasy (The Magic of Recluce) I found myself looking for something less weighty that I knew from the off would be quick to get immersed in. Spinning Silver was wonderful but left me with an epic book hangover.

So naturally I turned to something, or rather someone, who always manages to sweep me back into her world at the drop of a hat, the lighting of a gasper, or the discovery of yet another dead body.

Of course, I’m speaking of Miss Phryne Fisher. The books, while in some ways markedly different than the TV series, always serve up a delicious repaste of Phryne’s signature style, sizzling wit and nose for both finding and solving trouble.

Death by Water was certainly no exception.

This was an interesting story for multiple reasons. This is one of the few cases where the book consists almost entirely of the case. It is also a story where Phryne is operating far away from her usual base of operations, and without most of her cast of regulars. And the cruise ship itinerary as described in the book is fascinating.

She boards the P&O cruise ship SS Hinemoa for a luxury cruise to New Zealand with only the redoubtable Dot at her side. Phryne has chosen to accept this case from the cruise line to discover who is stealing expensive jewels from its first-class passengers so that she can escape a period of more than the usual chaos at her house in St. Kilda.

The thefts have been cunning. The jewel thief or thieves have managed to make some of their heists in the middles of crowded dancefloors with no one being the wiser. It’s giving the cruise line a black eye in the publicity department, not to mention costing them a pretty penny in reparations. And it has to stop.

So Phryne boards the ship with a stunner of a sapphire and a tragic story of a curse to go with it. The games begin almost immediately, as the thieves make attempts on her stateroom and both Phryne’s and Dot’s possessions and eventually persons.

That makes it personal.

But just as Phryne begins to put all the pieces together, murder enters the scene. Are the crimes connected, or are there two crime sprees aboard this one ship? With the help of the ship’s cat Scragger, Phryne is able to reveal all. Or almost all. Or all that needs to be revealed.

Escape Rating B+: I went looking for fun, and I found it. And just like Phryne drinking a restorative brandy, I feel ready to tackle whatever comes next.

This is one of the stories that was not filmed, and I understand why. At the same time, I’m sorry it wasn’t – the sets and the costumes would have been glorious!

The case here turns out to be unusually straightforward. The ship is a closed community, and there aren’t a lot of options for misdirection. Phryne, as usual, solves the problem with intelligence rather than forensics. She studies the people involved, looks at the possible motives and opportunities, and figures out who is acting out of character, even if she can’t always tell why.

But Phryne is alone, except for Dot of course, on this trip. This wasn’t a case where the usual gang would have been all that helpful, and they weren’t missed as they have been in other stories. Cec’s niece Lizbeth, Navigation Officer Green and others do end up filling the places of Phryne’s assistants, and for once it works well. It helps that Phryne’s fellow first-class passengers are a colorful lot – to say the least!

The descriptions, both of shipboard life on a first class cruise and of cruise tourism in New Zealand in the 1920s are marvelous. The reader feels as if they are there on the ship, with all its gossip, pampering, troublemaking and ennui. If it weren’t for the frequent attempts on Phryne’s and Dot’s lives, it would seem like quite a restful trip! And if you enjoy Phryne’s singular voice, it’s a lovely journey.

Review: Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Queen of the Flowers by Kerry GreenwoodQueen of the Flowers (Phryne Fisher Mystery #14) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #14
Pages: 256
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

St. Kildas streets hang with fairy lights. Tea dances, tango competitions, lifesaving demonstrations, lantern shows, and picnics on the beach are all part of the towns first Flower Parade. And who should be Queen of the Flowers but the Honourable Phryne Fisher? It seems that the lovely Phryne has nothing to do but buy dresses, drink cocktails, and dine in lavish restaurants. Unfortunately, disappearances during this joyous festival aren t limited to the magic shows. One of Phryne s flower maidens has simply vanished. And so, Phryne is off to investigate aided by Bert and Cec and her trusty little Beretta. When her darling adopted daughter Ruth goes missing, Phryne is determined that nothing will stand in the way of her investigation. Phryne must confront elephants, brothel-life, and perhaps worst of all an old lover in an effort to save Ruth and her flower maiden before it is too late. Queen of the Flowers is the fourteenth book in the Phryne Fisher series, with no sign of Ms. Fisher hanging up her pearl-handled pistol yet."

My Review:

The more of this series that I read, the more amazed I am that they managed to film it at all, let alone that it is still possible to recognize the original in the changes – and vice versa.

I turn to Phryne when I need a comfort read, because she is guaranteed to whisk me away to Melbourne in the 1920s, whether the particular adventure is one of the better ones or merely a visit with old friends.

Queen of the Flowers is one of the better ones, and it is one of the occasions where the book is much better than the TV show – not that there haven’t been plenty of cases the other way around.

One reason why I marvel that the series was ever filmed at all is just how frank both the author and Phryne were about the seamy underbelly of life in general and life in Melbourne in the 1920s in particular. This story is one that pulls absolute no punches whatsoever.

But the way that it links back to both Phryne’s past and her adopted daughter Ruth’s certainly does tug at the heart.

The mystery, and the story, in Queen of the Flowers revolves around a series of abused young women. Not just the school of hard knocks that Phryne certainly graduated from, but also the house of ill-repute that her adopted daughters Ruth and Jane survived. And most important for this particular story, the house of horrors that young Rose Weston is so desperate to escape from, and the reasons for that desperation.

Once Phryne is on the case, there is no question that all of the young women in desperate trouble in this story, not just Ruth and Rose but also all of the young female servants in the place Rose escaped from, will all find safe harbor after Phryne finishes the case.

The only question, in the end, is just how much justice Phryne will mete out herself before she lets the police clean up the garbage. And the elephant poop.

Escape Rating A-: Queen of the Flowers is definitely one of the better stories in the series, at least so far. I’ll confess that I had a bit of a hard time getting into it at the very beginning, much as Phryne was having a difficult time at her luncheon with the young ladies who will form her “court” when she does her charitable duty as “Queen of the Flowers” in the upcoming parade.

But once she is woken up in the wee hours because Rose Weston is missing and her mother has gone mental, the story is off to the races, and just gets more and more fascinating as it goes.

While Phryne’s life often seems like a circus, the real circus has come to town for the fete and the parade, and has brought with it one of Phryne’s old friends, her friend’s three elephants, and one of Phryne’s old lovers – as well as a plot to ensnare her daughter Ruth and attempt to bilk some money out of Phryne.

The circus just adds to the confusion, as well as to the number of potential suspects and hiding places, once Rose and Ruth have both gone missing. However, the parallel cases provide ample opportunity for all of the regulars in the series to get plenty of chances to shine in a bit of the spotlight.

But as much as Ruth’s disappearance and/or abduction worries Phryne and her whole household, the real drama in this story is provided by Rose Weston’s plight. Because once Phryne begins her investigation, she keeps digging right to the bottom of every terrible thing that has happened to Rose to put her in this fix. And the lengths that Phryne is willing to go to in order to see right finally done take her to some very low places – where she always holds her own.

Which does not make Phryne’s foray into the criminal underworld of Melbourne any less daunting – or any less fascinating.

In the end, as always, evil gets its just desserts and good in the person of Phryne Fisher definitely triumphs – in this case even more spectacularly than is usual even for Phryne. It’s not every heroine that gets to ride to glory on the back of an elephant!

Review: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood

Review: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry GreenwoodThe Castlemaine Murders (Phryne Fisher, #13) by Kerry Greenwood
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Phryne Fisher #13
Pages: 240
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on July 1st 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

The fabulous Phryne Fisher, her sister Beth and her faithful maid, Dot, decide that Luna Park is the perfect place for an afternoon of fun and excitement with Phryne's two daughters, Ruth and Jane. But in the dusty dark Ghost Train, amidst the squeals of horror and delight, a mummified bullet-studded corpse falls to the ground in front of them. Phryne Fisher's pleasure trip has definitely become business. Digging into this longstanding mystery takes her to the country town of Castlemaine where it's soon obvious that someone is trying to muzzle her investigations. With unknown threatening assailants on her path, Phryne seems headed for more trouble than usual....

My Review:

This was the first time that one of Phryne Fisher’s mysteries gave me a bit of a book hangover. Normally, this series is more like a palate cleanser for me, in that when I find myself in need of a quick, comfortable read, I pick up the next book in the series, read it in one night and the next morning I’m ready for whatever is next on my actual schedule.

The true historical elements wrapped into this story, combined with the cultural background on Chinese immigration and Chinese society in Australia in the 1920s and before were fascinating. Also, unlike most of the books in the series that I have read so far, this particular story was not filmed, nor were any of the elements from this story part of any of the filmed episodes.

So it was both utterly familiar and completely new at the same time.

There are really two stories in this book, running mostly in parallel and eventually meeting up at the end. Phryne uncovers (unmasks, perhaps unboots) a mummy at an amusement park. In spite of the age of the mummy, who while certainly not an Egyptian pharaoh seems to be at least half a century old, someone still seems to be dead – or perhaps deadly – interested in preventing Phryne from discovering who he used to be.

Meanwhile, Phryne’s lover Lin Chung is in the process of assuming control of the Lin family. His venerable Grandmother is still alive, but now that Lin Chung is an adult, control of the family businesses is his. If he can manage to gain that control without offending the old dragon too much, and without making her lose too much face in the process. It’s a delicate balance.

A balance that is made even more delicate when Lin Chung manages to settle a century-old feud between the Lin family and the equally distinguished Hu family. Among the many outstanding issues to be settled between them is the theft of gold from the Lin family and the murder of their four couriers back in 1857, at the height of the Australian gold rush and the depths of anti-Chinese prejudice in Australia.

But when all the accounts are settled between the two families, with nothing left owing on either side, the theft and the deaths are still outstanding, because the Hu family was not responsible. So who was? What happened to the bodies? And what happened to the gold?

Meanwhile, Phryne’s younger sister Beth has been rusticated to Australia by their bully of a father, because she will not marry either of the two men he has picked out for her. And with excellent reasons, even if it does take her half the story to finally reveal all.

It is rather convenient that the mysterious mummy, the missing couriers and Beth’s erstwhile suitor all resolve into one single problem. And it’s also a whole lot of fun to watch it all finally unravel.

Right along with the rope that the villains tie Phryne up with.

Escape Rating A-:This was the right book at the right time. I’ve been reading the Phryne Fisher series in order, but not one right after another. As much as I love the series, what makes reading one seem fresh would get a bit stale if I tried reading a bunch of them back-to-back, no matter how tempted I might be.

The Castlemaine Murders was one that tempted me a great deal. It had a lot of elements that made it just a bit different from previous books in the series, while, unlike Death Before Wicket, the story was not based on something in which I have neither the interest nor the understanding.

Instead, the mystery in The Castlemaine Murders is all about history. And while the particular mystery that Phryne had to solve was fictional, the events of the Australian Gold Rush in general, including the terrible treatment of the Chinese laborers brought in to work the fields, was all too true. Much of the history that Phryne and Lin Chung investigate really happened, if not quite in the same way as in the story.

A significant chunk of this story revolves around Lin Chung rather than Phryne – they operate separately for much of the narrative. It’s a fascinating introduction to a culture and society that I am not familiar with, while at the same time the prejudices that the Chinese laborers faced in Australia were unfortunately not all that different from what they faced in the California Gold Rush.

This is also to some extent Lin Chung’s coming of age story, as he begins to operate as head of the family and out from under his very formidable grandmother’s thumb. He’s an interesting character in his own right (and in Phryne’s life) and his parts of the story were absorbing.

One of the ways that this story diverges from the TV series, in addition to the significant part that Lin Chung plays in the narrative, is the part of the story relating to Phryne’s sister Beth (who is dead in the series) and their father who is rather feckless in the TV series but a bully and a tyrant here.

For those reading this book expecting it to be just like the TV show will probably be a bit disappointed, or even censorious about Phryne’s continued relationship with the married Lin Chung. But for those following the book series on its own merits, this one is a treat.

Up next is Queen of the Flowers, the next time I need a comfort reading break!

Review: Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in Montparnasse (Phryne Fisher Mystery #12) by Kerry Greenwood
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Phryne Fisher #12
Pages: 253
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Always enticing in divine twenties fashion, Phryne, one of the most exciting and likeable heroines in crime writing today, leads us through a tightly plotted maze of thrilling adventure set in 1920s Australia. The divine Phryne Fisher returns to lead another dance of intrigue. Seven Australian soldiers, carousing in Paris in 1918, unknowingly witness a murder and their presence has devastating consequences. Ten years later, two are dead under very suspicious circumstances. Phryne s wharfie mates, Bert and Cec, appeal to her for help. They were part of this group of soldiers in 1918 and they fear for their lives and for those of the other three men. It s only as Phryne delves into the investigation that she, too, remembers being in Montparnasse on that very same day. While Phryne is occupied with memories of Montparnasse past and the race to outpace the murderer, she finds troubles of a different kind at home. Her lover, Lin Chung, is about to be married. And the effect this is having on her own usually peaceful household is disastrous."

My Review:

For various reasons, some of which are detailed in this Facebook post, this week went to hell in a handcart. And a crappy handcart at that.

As usual, when I can’t concentrate on much of anything else, I turn to my current comfort read, Phryne Fisher. Murder in Montparnasse swept me back in Phryne’s world for a few hours, where there is plenty of danger, but also lots of derring-do, where justice triumphs and evil gets righteously crushed.

And where the ghosts of memory are laid to their proper rest.

For those who have watched the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series, Murder in Montparnasse was filmed, and broadcast in the middle of the first season. I recently re-watched it, so the story in the TV version is still pretty clear in my memory.

It feels like the base story is the same in both versions. There are alterations in the details, as there usually are. The TV version includes Jack and Phryne’s first kiss, when Jack needs to distract Phryne and keep her from giving the game away to the villain.

Jack in the books is absolutely nothing like Jack in the TV series, so many of the changes between versions involve Phryne’s long-term lover, Lin Chung, and the rather interesting arrangements for his upcoming marriage.

But the two versions are the same at their heart. Bert and Cec, who served together in WW1 at Gallipoli and many other terrible places, come to Phryne with a problem. Two of their mates have been murdered in such a way that both deaths appeared to be accidents, at least on the surface. The circumstances in both cases were very definitely fishy, and should have been investigated properly, but weren’t due to police incompetence. Something that Jack in the book definitely has something to say about. Whatever he is or isn’t, he is always a good cop.

Bert and Cec’s problem connects to a piece of Phryne’s past that she has tried to bury, mostly from herself. On leave at the end of the war, Bert and Cec and their mates were in Paris, and they witnessed the murder of the painter Sarcelle. Phryne modelled for Sarcelle (among others), and also knew that his death had been ruled an accident.

Their description of the incident takes Phryne back to her own Parisian experience. She remembers everything all too well, especially the cold-hearted beast who seduced her, beat her, and expected her to keep on taking it until he was done. She ran before she could be broken. But she’s never forgotten the man who broke her heart even as he tried to break her body and spirit.

The beast has come to Australia. At first, Phryne doesn’t know why. But she does know that whatever Rene Dubois is involved in this time, it must be far from the side of the angels.

All Phryne has to do is figure out what, and if and why he has to do with the deaths of Bert and Cec’s friends, before he escapes justice yet again.

This time Phryne, with the help of Bert and Cec and their mates, are going to see that the man who haunted her nightmares finally gets exactly what’s coming to him. No matter what it costs.

Escape Rating A-: As a story, this one hangs together a bit better in the book than it did on TV. Even though there are multiple plot threads here, not just Phryne’s past and the deaths of Bert and Cec’s friends but also a kidnapped young woman, a different young woman who wants to get out of the marriage her parents have arranged for her, Lin Chung’s bride’s secrets and Mr. Butler’s resignation, the threads do connect and Phryne’s ghosts get expiated.

The ending is very satisfying.

We also see more of Phryne’s past and in more detail than TV could portray. The glimpses, through Phryne’s eyes, of the post-WW1 Paris that Hemingway called “a moveable feast” are evocative and poignant. And we get a much clearer picture of what Phryne thought and felt during that transitional, ephemeral time and place. It all goes a long towards explaining how Phryne got to be who she is at the point where the books begin. For this reader, at least, it feels like Phryne preserved more of her agency in the book version that her memories indicated in the TV version. And I always prefer that my heroines have all the agency they can grab.

The ending of Murder in Montparnasse is far from tidy, but it feels incredibly right. Dubois gets exactly what he deserves. It is not a neat, clean or even legal result. But it is definitely justice. And it feels intensely satisfying to see it delivered.

A little Murder in Montparnasse was just what I needed. I think I’m going to go and watch it again.

Review: Away With the Fairies by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Away With the Fairies by Kerry GreenwoodAway With the Fairies (Phryne Fisher Mystery #11) by Kerry Greenwood
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Phryne Fisher #11
Pages: 241
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on August 1st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s 1928 in Melbourne and Phryne is asked to investigate the puzzling death of a famous author and illustrator of fairy stories. To do so, Phryne takes a job within the women’s magazine that employed the victim and finds herself enmeshed in her colleagues’ deceptions.

But while Phryne is learning the ins and outs of magazine publishing first hand, her personal life is thrown into chaos. Impatient for her lover Lin Chung’s imminent return from a silk-buying expedition to China, she instead receives an unusual summons from Lin Chung’s family, followed by a series of mysterious assaults and warnings.

My Review:

It feels as if Mr. Butler, Phryne Fisher’s butler and general factotum (particularly as portrayed in the TV series) , must be the direct ancestor of Summerset, Roarke’s majordomo in the In Death series. Or at least that’s what got me picking up Away with the Fairies, the next book in my Phryne Fisher series read, as I searched for comfort reading in the anticipation and wake of Hurricane Irma.

The murder victims in Secrets in Death and Away with the Fairies are also surprisingly similar. Both are women who operated in the gray areas that surround respectable journalism for their times. And both of them had an unhealthy interest in other people’s secrets, and the power that came with possessing those secrets and being willing to use that power.

And that’s what ultimately got both of them killed. It also makes neither of them a very sympathetic victim.

The victim is so unsympathetic in Away with the Fairies, that the case of Miss Lavender’s death isn’t even Phryne’s primary concern during the story. Instead, her sometimes desultory and often parceled out investigation into Miss Lavender’s seemingly unremarkable life and slightly puzzling death serves as a distraction to keep Phryne from her growing concern over her missing lover, Lin Chung.

His trip to China to purchase silks for his family business has gone on much longer than he planned, and Phryne’s dreams of his body being food for rapacious vermin are a disturbing message that something is very, very wrong. A message that is confirmed when Phryne receives Lin’s severed ear and a request for ransom from the pirates who have captured him. Phryne marshalls her best resources, in this case Bert and Cec, to find out everything that can be found about South Sea piracy, and prepares to rescue Lin, even if she must take on the pirates herself.

She’s more than capable of defeating them, single-handed if necessary. Just as soon as she knows where to hunt them down.

But Miss Lavender’s death niggles at her. The more she and her agent, in this case the resourceful Dot, discover, the more motives she finds for the woman’s death. It seems to have been inevitable that someone would finally bump her off, the question is, who managed to do it?

Escape Rating B: This was my second hurricane book. I was having no luck concentrating on anything more serious, or anything where I wasn’t already intimately familiar with the world within. As much as I love to really sink my reading teeth into good and deep worldbuilding, this just wasn’t the time.

When I’m looking for comfort read, I always turn to Phryne, and am swept away – if not quite as far away with the fairies as the victim in this case.

A bit of the story in Away with the Fairies reminded me fondly of Murder Must Advertise from the Lord Peter Wimsey series. Just as Wimsey infiltrates an advertising firm to investigate a murder, Phryne inserts herself into the ladies magazine where the victim and many of her suspects work. While Phryne never pretends to be anything other than who she is, she does conceal her profession as a detective until someone else lets that cat out of its bag.

Just as in yesterday’s Secrets in Death, the victim is a nasty piece of work – albeit on a much smaller scale this time around. She was always poking her nose into other people’s business, and using the knowledge gained to elicit small rewards and small revenges. It is amazing that she lived as long as she did, considering that her life was spent in two relatively small worlds where everyone knew her and ended up disliking her at best and fearing her at worst.

Her signature eccentricity about drawing and writing about fairies never felt fully explained or fully realized. It certainly made her stand out, and it also provided her with a modest living as a writer and illustrator, but it was so excessive that it felt as if it needed a bit more explanation, especially when combined with Phryne’s discovery that the profusion of fairy paraphernalia that overwhelmed the public areas of her apartment was not replicated in her private spaces, which were neat, orderly and most of all, uncluttered.

Having recently re-watched the first season of the TV series, the difference between the TV and literary versions of this story stand out even more clearly. The subplot revolving around Phryne’s concern for Lin Chung and her subsequent rescue of him are completely scrapped in the TV version for the weaker and much less compelling murder investigation. And even though I understand why, the story definitely loses something in translation. The story is much stronger in the book. Miss Lavender’s case was too slight and inconsequential to carry the whole story, and it’s better here where it doesn’t.

But I am always happy to visit with Phryne. And I look forward to reading Murder in Montparnasse, the next time I need a comfortable little murder. To read about, that is.

Review: Death Before Wicket by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Death Before Wicket by Kerry GreenwoodDeath Before Wicket (Phryne Fisher Mystery #10) by Kerry Greenwood
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Phryne Fisher #10
Pages: 232
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on July 4th 2017 (first published 1999)
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Phryne Fisher is on holiday. She means to take the train to Sydney (where the harbour bridge is being built), go to a few cricket matches, dine with the Chancellor of the university and perhaps go to the Arts Ball with that celebrated young modernist, Chas Nutall. She has the costume of a lifetime and she s not afraid to use it. When she arrives there, however, her maid Dot finds that her extremely respectable married sister Joan has vanished, leaving her small children to the neglectful care of a resentful husband. She rescues the children, but what has become of Joan, who would never leave her babies? Surely she hasn t run away with a lover, as gossip suggests? Phryne must trawl the nightclubs and bloodtubs of Darlinghurst to find out. And while Phryne is visiting the university, two very pretty young men, Joss and Clarence, ask her to find out who has broken into the Dean s safe and stolen a number of things, including the Dean s wife s garnets and an irreplaceable illuminated book called the Hours of Juana the Mad. An innocent student has been blamed. So there is no rest for the wicked, and Phryne girds up her loins, loads her pearl handled .32 Beretta, and sallies forth to find mayhem, murder, black magic, and perhaps a really good cocktail at the Hotel Australia."

My Review:

I’ve been reading the Phryne Fisher series, in publication order, as time permits. Meaning whenever I either need a comfort read or discover that I’ve otherwise bitten off more book than I have time to chew, as happened this week.

Most of the books in the Phryne Fisher book series were used as inspiration for episodes of the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Death Before Wicket is one of those that were not filmed. (The others, for those keeping score, seem to be Flying Too High, Urn Burial, The Castlemaine Murders, Death by Water, Murder on a A Midsummer Night and Murder and Mendelssohn.)

I’m fairly certain that the reason that Death Before Wicket wasn’t tackled is that while the crime is set in a university, where the academic politics have gotten exceedingly but recognizably vicious, the entire background revolves around cricket, specifically Test matches in Australia in the 1920s. Cricket as a sport seems to be impenetrable to those not brought up loving the thing, which would include most Americans and anyone outside the Commonwealth countries. And I’m not sure about even the Canadians on this score. No pun intended.

So while the mystery that Phryne has to solve is as much fun as ever, the background, including her reason (or excuse) for traveling from her Melbourne residence to Sydney, may leave some readers more than a bit puzzled. Including this one. I skimmed over the cricket games. As many times as I’ve seen cricket in the background of plenty of mysteries and dramas set in England, I have no clue how the game works, or why.

But as lost as I was amongst the cricket fans, the academic parts of this mystery were as convoluted as ever. The politics at the University of Sydney were as vicious as anything Kissinger intended with his famous quote, “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.” At this University, that viciousness leads to theft, disgrace, kidnapping, embezzlement and eventually, murder.

Someone broke into the Bursar’s safe and made off with a whole bunch of items, none of which seem to be worth all that much. The books were stolen – not the library’s books, but the college’s account books, and the poor bursar is so befuddled that he can’t recreate them. And of course there’s an audit coming. A rather pretty Book of Hours is missing, as are the professors’ exam books for the upcoming finals. At a college, that’s probably the prize worth stealing. Except that there are two other items missing. One is rather small potatoes, a set of garnet jewelry belonging to the Dean’s wife. Garnets are semi-precious, fairly common, and generally not worth a whole lot in the grand scheme of thievery.

But the prize among the missing items is a bit of papyrus from ancient Egypt, that just might contain the secret to where Cheops is really buried, since the poor pharaoh is not in his magnificent pyramid. Or it might contain the text of a potent Egyptian curse, the possibilities of which have the local occult community positively salivating. Translating the text might be the key to which professor gets his research funded. Or it might be all of the above.

It is up to Phryne to sort through all those tempting and treacherous possibilities, before someone loses their career or their life. And it’s a near-run thing, but Phryne, as always, is up for the job.

Escape Rating B-: There are lots of reviewers who will say that this is one of Phryne’s adventures that can be given a miss, unless one is either a real fan or a terrible completist. As I’m certainly the latter, and possibly the former, I picked this one up in its proper order. I’m not sorry in the least, but I found the academic setting of the mystery to be perhaps unintentionally hilarious. Academia in the 21st century is not quite as it was in the 1920s, but some of underlying insanity isn’t all that different either. Enough similar that I found enough bits reminiscent to carry me through. If you are looking to start Phryne’s series, do not, on any account, start here. Start with Cocaine Blues. There’s a reason that the TV series also opened with that one, as it introduces everyone and everything.

But speaking of Cocaine Blues, I did miss Phryne’s regular cast of irregulars. This story is set in Sydney, not Melbourne. While it was fun to watch Phryne navigate a new place and gather a new, albeit temporary, set of friends, allies and lovers, I missed her usual gang, particularly in this mystery, Bert and Cec. As did Phryne.

On the other hand, Dot, left to soldier on as Phryne’s only trusted aide in this adventure, did have her chances to operate solo a bit and to shine.

Part of the solution to the mystery involved a certain amount of involvement in the local occult community, particularly its less savory denizens. In order to get to the bottom of the morass, Phryne herself has to deal with and perpetrate a certain amount of mumbo-jumbo, some of which went a bit over the top. Belief is, as Phryne herself says, a powerful thing. That she manipulates others’ belief in the supernatural in order to find the solution is not surprising, but that she herself nearly trips over into it felt a bit unnatural for her character.

One final note. While the Phryne Fisher series is set in the 1920s, the first book was published in 1989 and the series is still ongoing. While the settings feel true to their time and place, Phryne’s attitudes feel singular for her own time, and perhaps owe more to the time in which they were written rather than their setting. This has been true across all the books so far, and also in Death Before Wicket. One part of obscuring the mystery involves a professor who is being blackmailed because of his homosexuality. Phryne does not care who anyone has sex with, and neither do at least some of the faculty. But if it ever becomes public, the scandal will at best ruin the man, and possibly land him in prison. As much as I prefer Phryne’s attitude of acceptance, and her tolerance in this and many other things, I wonder how true her attitude would have been, even to a woman in her singular position. Which doesn’t change the fact that I love Phryne and will happily read any and all of her adventures.

I’m looking forward to going Away with the Fairies, the next time I need a reading break!