Phryne Fisher — socialite, aristocrat, flapper… and amateur detective. She’s a character is a series of mystery novels written by Melbourne author Kerry Greenwood. Years ago, I read Greenwood’s YA novels. I loved them, and so bought the first two of her famed Phryne Fisher mystery novels. Nine years later, I’ve finally gotten around to reading the first of them. 🙂
The first two books in the series are Cocaine Blues and Flying Too High. I’ve got the two-in-one volume published by Pulp Fiction Press in 2003. I bought it when it was released with the best of intentions, certain that I would read it fairly soon. But, as these things happen, the book got mislaid and I forgot about it. I found it again a year or so ago and placed it in my must-read-soon pile, where it inevitably had a couple of dozen other books placed on top of it. When I heard that a television series was being made, I put the book a little closer to the top of the pile. The next thing you know, the ABC is screening Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. So I extracted the book from its place in the stack and began to read.
In Cocain Blues Miss Fisher arrives in Melbourne at the behest of an aristocratic family, to investigate what is happening with their daughter, who they fear may be the victim of slow poisoning by her husband. It’s not long before Phryne is also caught up with investigations into cocaine smuggling and illegal abortions. Along the way, she teams up with two socialist taxi drivers and a Scottish female doctor, and hires a maid/investigative assistant. I assume that this team will continue to assist her through further adventures.
The mystery plot is interesting enough, though in the end, unremarkable. What really hooked me into this book and kept me reading were the characters and the setting — particularly Phryne Fisher herself. She is a fabulously fun character, with her penchant for good-looking men, fast cars and designer dresses. Intriguing and likeable, I couldn’t help but want her to succeed.
And then there’s all the wonderful period detail. Set in Melbourne (my home city) in the 1920s, I really enjoyed all the descriptions of familiar landmarks as they had been in the past — like the wonderful Block Arcade and the Windsor Hotel in the CBD. Phryne swans through the streets of Melbourne with the same delicious ease and nonchalance that she does through her many social engagements in upper crust society. It’s all rather a joy to read.
The edition I read did seem a little plagued by typos. Hopefully, these will have been fixed up for the new tv show tie-in editions from Allen & Unwin.
I’ve taken a break to read a couple of other books, but I will soon be returning to Miss Fisher’s 1920s Melbourne to read Flying Too High. I’m determined to read at least one or two more before settling down to watch the series, as I want to create a firm picture of the main characters in my mind before seeing what the respective actors have done with them.
By the way, if you’re interested in Phryne’s literary adventures, check out her website.
Catch ya later, George
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