Ruddy Gore, Kerry Greenwood
I wasn’t as caught up in this one as with some of the others — at least, not the mystery, though I am enjoying Phryne’s latest lover, Lin Chung. But the whole supernatural aspect is just thin to me, and the plot relies on the reader to make the same mistake as the characters, or it becomes rather obvious. I found bits of it contradictory — Phryne notices certain characters, but then doesn’t factor them into her understanding of what’s going on for far too long. And there’s the melodrama with the hints that perhaps there is a real ghost…
Not my favourite so far, but still compulsively readable, of course.
Blood and Circuses, Kerry Greenwood
This is a nice change of pace for Phryne, taking her out of her element and putting her in the circus, where she isn’t automatically great at everything and people don’t automatically like her — some of her privilege of being a rich person gets stripped away, leaving the tough kid who grew up in poverty to deal with things. There’s a good bit of drama towards the end, which got a bit too much for my tastes in a cosy mystery (attempted rape, protagonist is left naked in a cage with large predator animals). I did like Jack’s involvement and trust in Phryne’s work, though, and the way he corrected the other policeman who was calling an intersex person “it”.
Also, Phryne’s men made me laugh this time when they both got in bed with her to cuddle her after her shock. They really didn’t protest very much!
The series remains easy to read and solidly entertaining; I’m getting through it at speed.
The Green Mill Murder, Kerry Greenwood
This is what, by now, counts as a fairly typical story for Phryne, featuring two different lovers, some acts of derring-do, and little glimpses of the found-family going on with Ruth, Jane, Bert, Cec, the Butlers, Dot, and Phryne. Oh, and some very unpleasant people in society. Actually, I would quite like to see Phryne getting on with some people that she doesn’t want to sleep with and doesn’t despise, in her own social class… not that social class matters much to her; it just feels like a gap.
The mystery itself is a bit odd, in this one: it’s not really about finding the murderer, just about proving someone innocent. Even though, in this instance, there was a murderer. I dislike the attitude in some detective novels where the person who dies is an awful person, so the detective doesn’t really want to find out who did it. You can’t run a business by deciding who you like and who you don’t — and murder isn’t any more acceptable when the dead person is not likeable.
This book does include a few queer characters, very openly; it’s mostly dealt with casually, with pity for the situation they’re in and acceptance on Phryne’s part. But. Do they have to be stereotypes? Sigh.
It also contains a wombat character, who is epic, and some really gorgeous descriptions of flying and the Australian outback. So… swings and roundabouts.
I gather the TV show handles this one quite differently, and it’s the next one I have to watch, so that should be interesting.
Death at Victoria Dock, Kerry Greenwood
If you were under the impression that Phryne is unfeeling, that her lovers mean nothing to her, this one should thoroughly disabuse you of that notion. I don’t know how you could be under that illusion after the anger she feels about the people hurting Sasha in Cocaine Blues, or the way she protects Jane and Ruth, but still. The story opens with a young man dying in her arms and that injustice drives the story, through Phryne’s anger.
The story itself is a whole world away from what I’m used to/know about, in terms of date, setting and politics, so I mostly just let it carry me. I love, though, that Phryne has loyal friends in the chance-met Bert and Cec, in Dot and in her adopted daughters. It’s a found family thing, which I always love.
In a way, the books don’t really bring anything new. There doesn’t seem to be an overarching plot, and Phryne isn’t changing, really. But it’s still so refreshing to have her so capable, so independent (but not infallible, not invulnerable, as this book particularly shows us) that I can’t stop reading them.
Murder on the Ballarat Train, Kerry Greenwood
Another fun outing with Phryne! This one ends with her adopting a couple of girls and goes through a bunch of stuff — a crime on a train, hypnotism, murder for an inheritance, mad criminals, etc. I’m not a fan of stories where the criminal turns out to be insane, even though it’s a classic: most crime is carried out by sane people, or certainly people whose mental disorders are not central to the deed. In fact, in the real world, it’s more common for a mentally ill person to be a victim of violence than the perpetrator. It doesn’t help that the whole hypnotism thing is a little too convenient — the hypnotist can get away with just about anything using hypnotism, here.
Still, it’s fun, and I love the found-family stuff at the end. I did predict some turns of the plot, but that’s not really what I’m reading this for anyway.
I don’t think Phryne has had the same lover in any of these books so far, either. I love that there seems to be no drive for her to change her ways, in the story: she’s a flapper, she’s Phryne, and people have to accept that. Don’t get attached to any of her young men!
Flying Too High, Kerry Greenwood
Pretty much binging on this series at the moment, I have to admit. As I write up this review, I’m already two books ahead. I find the books so readable, and since each one has clocked in under 200 pages so far, they’re not a huge time investment. Phryne is a lovely character: independent, smart, fearless, honest and true to her own principles — and non-judgemental of others.
I don’t really have much to say about the plots: these books remind me of Sayers’ mysteries, where what I care about is more the characters and how they deal with the situation. Phryne is a little too good to be true, but I want to see what she does anyway. She has a spark and a love of life that animates the novels for me. I hear Essie Davis does a great job with the character in the series, so I’m quite excited to get round to it on Netflix. Just… you know… me being me, excitement still might mean it takes me another year to get to. (Sorry, Charlie Cox-as-Daredevil.)
Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates, Kerry Greenwood
Aka Cocaine Blues. I did actually try to read this once before, and really didn’t get into it — I don’t think I read more than a couple of chapters. Looking at that review now, I think I must’ve been really cranky that day, because all I complained about was adjectives. Which, yes, are present… but not nearly as bad as I seemed to think back then. Perhaps a case of finding the right book at the right time, because reading this during the readathon, I loved it!
Even the first time, I was impressed by Phryne’s character: the fact that she’s a flapper, that she’s independent, clever, capable. This time through, I also noticed her kindness a lot: her treatment of Dot, her concern about other people. She’s also a shrewd judge of character. In fact, there’s very little we see by way of flaws in Phryne, which could get annoying… but for now, I just loved the amount of agency she has, the strength she has, the fact that she’s unequivocally a sexual person and nobody can take advantage of her because she owns that fact.
The mysteries were kind of secondary to that for me; they come together well, though, and give us a varied cast. Nobody is involved in everything, but each person has ties to the next. I quite liked that.
If it’s any measure of my enthusiasm, I immediately ordered the second book (in time for it to be delivered — and pounced on — the next morning by Amazon Prime, on a Sunday!) and reserved more from the library.
Ask A Policeman, John Rhode, Helen Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Milward Kennedy
I think the books and stories the Detection Club did together must have been a lot of fun to do and to share around with other writers, but they come off less well for someone outside that context, and particularly given that many of the authors and detectives are no longer well-known. Sayers/Lord Peter were the only ones I knew from this bunch, so the parody and playing in other people’s sandboxes doesn’t really interest me.
Going through the same murder in however many different ways just… didn’t interest me enough. The parody of Sayers was quite fun, since I know what Wimsey is like, but other than that, I found this fairly boring. Alas.
Wildfire at Midnight, Mary Stewart
It was a grey and drizzly day, this morning — even if it brightened up later — so I felt like turning to one of my comfort reads. Wildfire at Midnight isn’t one of my favourite Stewart novels, and indeed the sense of dread and atmosphere in the book makes it perhaps a touch darker than the others, especially with the moral conflict in the last part where Gianetta thinks she knows who did the crime.
The crime itself is pretty chillingly awful; I can’t remember if any of Stewart’s other novels features a mentally ill antagonist, but that’s how it winds up in this one. And he is pretty unsettling, when you compare his later behaviour with all the rest of the book, and think about what lay under the surface… Not a comfortable thought, certainly. It’s also not the warmest in terms of romance, since that’s barely there — there’s one or two great scenes which establish something, but not enough to really make you root for the relationship to happen.
So overall, definitely still not my favourite. But it’s Mary Stewart: the writing is atmospheric, the heroine is self-sufficient, and the ending is, for the heroine at least, a happy one.
One thing I would like to know, from other readers — there’s a scene early on where Gianetta is talking to the actress, Marcia. They’re talking about the two schoolteachers who are there together: the rather sullen older one, Marion, and the younger one, Roberta. Marcia calls them “schwärmerinen”. That seems to mean something to Gianetta, and she treats it as something scandalous/libellous — what on earth’s the implication meant to be? I have the feeling I’m too young to know context.
Overture to Death, Ngaio Marsh
It’s a solidly entertaining mystery, I suppose, aware of the genre and making sly little jokes at its expense. It doesn’t really sparkle, though; I felt that the culprit was made obvious by their behaviour, and not just because they acted guilty — also because they had that whole cliché Freudian repressed sexuality going on, which seems to crop up in crime fiction of that period far too much. Gaudy Night is another example, though it does sparkle, because of the character development that’s going on too. In this one, despite his engagement, and the appearance of some regular characters, it isn’t really about Alleyn or development of him or the minor characters. In fact, the POV characters are pretty much two young lovers who we may not even see again.
The repressed sexuality stuff is worthy of an eyeroll, but the machinations of the murder set-up are quite interesting to follow. It gets a bit repetitive, and does that irritating holding-back-of-details that means you can’t solve the crime for yourself (or, in this case, be sure about it), but as a murder mystery it’s alright. I just hope somebody kicks Alleyn into a higher gear…