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Dead Man’s Chest–beach holiday turns dangerous

Dead Man’s Chest

by Kerry Greenwood

Dead Man's ChestDead Man’s Chest deviates in a delightfully surprising way from the typical Phryne Fisher mystery with a change of setting. Most occur in St. Kilda near Melbourne, Australia, but in this work of historical fiction, detective Phryne Fisher takes her family to Queenscliff for a holiday while her home in St. Kilda is undergoing renovation.  The vacation turns into work as they arrive at the home an acquaintance has loaned her only to find the Johnsons, who serve as  butler and cook, have disappeared and the house has been emptied. Along with this mystery is a tale of a “pigtail snipper” who cuts off the braids of local young girls.

Ruth gets to try out her culinary skills, Jane delves into ancient bones and movie making, and Dot gets to spend some time with the strong and handsome Constable Hugh Collins. A young ne’er-do-well, Tinker, becomes a devout follower of his mentor, Miss Fisher, whom the whole family holds in high regard. Throw in some smuggling, tales of pirate treasure, a snoopy neighbor, insight into the impoverished lives of the serving classes and fishermen, and a taste of  Surrealism, and you have a lively story beckoning the reader to discover the answers to some fascinating Australian mysteries.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #18 in the Phryne Fisher’s Murder Mysteries; adequate as a standalone but more interesting with some background on the main characters

Publication: December 5, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

Phryne was getting out of the car. Dot closed her eyes. Miss Fisher was about to happen to someone again.

Dot had been training her in Suitable Topics for a Lady’s Dinner Table, which did not include Rat Dissection for Beginners or Beastly Customs of the Heathen, which was a pity because Jane knew a lot about both of these.

“We’re on a case again, aren’t we?” asked Dot gloomily. “Well, yes, but this time it really isn’t my fault, Dot dear. I was dropped right into this one.”

He was terrified. Not of the task, but that he might let the guv’nor down. She had trusted him. No one had ever trusted Tinker before.

Queen of Flowers–so many elements

Queen of Flowers

by Kerry Greenwood

Queen of FlowersQueen of Flowers opens with Phryne Fisher’s extensive fitting for a dress to be worn in a Melbourne parade as the chosen Queen of Flowers based on her charitable support. The whole household is turned on end for the fitting, an elephant makes an appearance in her yard, and that day turns out to be the most tranquil in the book.

Queen of Flowers is a masterpiece of complex plot. The carnival and circus are in town along with a violin player from Phryne’s past. Adopted daughter Ruth begins to wonder about her parents. Phryne takes her four flower girls (young ladies) in hand and discovers interesting aspects of their backgrounds. As usual, Phryne shows herself as a force to be reckoned with in dealing with some of St. Kilda’s shadiest characters. My one problem with the book was that when one of her daughters goes missing, Phryne is much calmer than one would expect.

All of Phryne’s “minions” are called in to help with the various mysteries that are amazingly connected. I felt like standing up and clapping with a loud “Well done!” as Greenwood tied up the plot threads successfully and delivered justice as deserved.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #14 of the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries; could be a standalone but better if you have some background on the characters

Publication:   November 7, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

Phryne, the fiddler remembered, always existed as a still, self-possessed point in a maelstrom. Usually she had created the maelstrom herself.

Phryne…climbed the stairs in search of copious hot water to wash the Weston house off her skin. She had been in houses which ran black with fleas. She had been in rural cottages where the soot gloved the beams and the vulcanized grease on the kitchen walls had been classified by the National Trust. But she had never felt quite this grimy, and she didn’t like it.

He was a slick, hard-faced man with a chin on which one could break rocks, and thin red lips. His eyes were as compassionate and kind as chips of flint.

Murder in Montparnasse–an astounding plot

Murder in Montparnasse

by Kerry Greenwood

Murder in MontparnasseIt is said that one should order soup in a fine restaurant as it is a predictor of the quality of the meal to come. The first chapter of Murder in Montparnasse was my “soup.” I knew upon sampling the book, that the descriptive language was worth savoring on the tongue. The introduction of three major plot threads provided delicious flavors evocative of a mystery worth reading.

Phryne Fisher has her hands full in this fast-paced mystery which focuses on a group of Bert and Cec’s friends from the war who seem to be targeted for death, the disappearance of a young lady, and strange occurrences at a delightful French restaurant. Along the way, various other puzzling circumstances need to be examined. Phryne’s past also becomes important as her time spent in Paris in an art community returns to haunt her. Domestic issues involve the marriage of her Chinese lover and the employment termination of her beloved Mr. Butler. Phryne’s daughters, Jane and Ruth, are pleased to take on detective roles, and Constable Hugh Collins shows his skills in some independent police work. Murder in Montparnasse is an altogether satisfying mystery.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #12 in the Phryne Fisher Mystery Series

Publication: September 5, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

The remedy for anything short of an outbreak of cholera in a French kitchen was “Add more cream!”

The waiter, who had clearly graduated magna cum laude from Cheeky French Waiter School, made a face which suggested that a chef who had dinners to cook ought not to be slugging down cognac at lunch, but he slapped down another glass and the bottle of cognac. He then flounced away, turning an ostentatious back.

Dot always worried about Phryne. There had been raised male voices in the refined parlour, and Dot didn’t like it one bit. Raised male voices, in Dot’s experience, preceded raised male fists. And then Miss Phryne might have to hurt someone.

Away with the Fairies–not a fairy tale

Away with the Fairies

by Kerry Greenwood

Away with the FairiesAway with the Fairies begins immediately with the discovery of Miss Lavender’s body in a fairytale setting. There are many possible suspects from the residents of the apartments to coworkers at the women’s magazine that Miss Lavender writes for. Maybe even a disgruntled reader who has solicited help from the magazine’s advice column.

In the midst of this complicated investigation, Lin Chung, Phryne Fisher’s Chinese lover, goes missing and it is up to Phryne to cross the cultural barriers set up by his family.  She needs to find him and rescue him if needed.

Dot, Phryne’s assistant, and Bert and Cec, socialist taxi-drivers and part-time employees of Phryne, get major roles. We are also introduced to another interesting character, Li Pen, a Shao Lin monk and bodyguard of Lin Chung.

Away with Fairies is an interesting mystery, full of adventures and intrigue, set in 1928. Phryne, as always, is brave and defiant. The plot is complicated, and the book has a satisfying, but unexpected resolution.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #11 in the Phryne Fisher Mystery Series. This one would work as a standalone, but is probably more enjoyable if the reader has been previously exposed to the characters.

Publication:   August 1, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

The case was breaking. She knew the feeling. The matter would be as obdurate as a big stone block for ages, utterly resisting all chipping and tapping. Then just when you were about to give up and take to it with a sledgehammer, it cracked into a lot of pieces and fell away, revealing the gold egg of the solution in the middle. Feeling that she had extended her metaphor beyond its coefficient of expansion, she blew idle smoke rings all the way to the city.

Bert, who was about to call upon his maker to deliver him from unconscionable demands from stroppy sheilas, decided not to on receipt of a fifty megawatt glare from those strange green eyes. He felt a moment of gentle Christian pity for whoever tried to stop Miss Fisher…

She stood so still that a questing rat paused in its passage across her foot, whiffling its whiskers, wondering if the engineer was dead enough to provide a late-night snack. Loathing washed over Phryne so strongly she was afraid that she would retch. The clammy tail was across her bare ankle. It was cold. It was one of the vilest things she had ever felt in her whole life and if it had gone on for another second she might have flinched.

Unnatural Habits–Phryne at her best

Unnatural Habits

by Kerry Greenwood

Unnatural HabitsKerry Greenwood created a much more complex mystery in Unnatural Habits than others of the Phryne Fisher Mystery Series that I have read. There are several significant investigations occurring simultaneously as well as some minor threads to be unravelled. I remember viewing the movie version of this book years ago. With this series, I usually like the movie better than the book, but in this case I must insist that the book is, in fact, light years past the movie which can not begin to do justice to the intricate plot or character development.

Greenwood, through Phryne Fisher, takes up the cause of girls and women who are treated like sexual property in a time when most women receive little respect and the Catholic church ignores various kinds of ill treatment of girls, women, and boys. Phryne is unable to rest until all of the immediate problems are solved, and she puts her own life at risk to rescue less fortunates.

This particular tale is enhanced by the frequent inclusion of her “minions” as she calls her willing helpers—Tink, her apprentice; Dot, her assistant and companion; Jane and Ruth, her adopted daughters; Burt and Cec, socialist taxi drivers; and Mr. and Mrs. Butler, providers of specialty drinks and food. Each character is called upon to use their unique skills to aid in the investigations.

Australia of the 1920’s comes to life with descriptions of dress of various levels of society, examinations of attitudes, laws, and customs, and use of unique terms. Some of the moral issues examined in the book would be considered reprehensible by most people today. Others are still being debated. There are some actions taken in the novel by Miss Fisher and others that are illegal, but are ignored because ignoring them promotes the general good and provides food for thought for the reader.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: All of the Phryne Fisher books may be enjoyed as standalones, but the characters are more interesting if you have read a few of the books in the series.

Publication:  July 4, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

She was pursuing a very perilous line of enquiry and appeared to have the sense of self-preservation of a chocolate Easter egg in a blast furnace.

“Assume the rules do not apply to you, and they don’t.”

The tone of voice could have been used in the fishing industry for freezing prawns.

“Government reports are like that,” Phryne told her. “Not altogether meant to be understood, thus easily denied.”

Raisins and Almonds–even the title is a mystery

Raisins and Almonds

by Kerry Greenwood

Raisins and AlmondsRaisins and Almonds is a typical Phryne Fisher mystery, but somewhat more cerebral. Evidence of that is found in the inclusion of a bibliography reflective of the author’s research and a glossary of Yiddish words. This mystery is strongly tied into the Jewish community that settled in Australia, the politics of Zionism, and a sub-sect focused on alchemy. Phryne has to do a lot of research in addition to her usual methods of sleuthing in order to find the murderer of a young Jewish scholar and free an innocent bookseller from prison.

Greenwood excels in this book in three ways. She uses the supporting characters to good advantage in solving the mystery as she sends her adopted daughters, her assistant Dot, and friends Bert and Cec out on different missions which play to their strengths. Phryne and Jack agree on the bookseller’s innocence enabling them to cooperate in their separate missions to solve the mystery. The ending of Raisins and Almonds is a fun surprise which wraps up the mystery and the title quite satisfactorily.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Notes: #9 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Publication:   June 6, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines: 

Phryne smiled guilelessly into the policeman’s face. He winced. Miss Fisher was at her most dangerous when she was smiling guilelessly. It was a sign that someone, somewhere, was about to be shaken down until their teeth rattled and the Detective Inspector was uneasily aware that he was the closest available target.

Bert was nervous because he didn’t know what to look for in this big bustling market. Neither did Cec, but his Scandinavian ancestors had bequeathed him some Viking fatalism. If they were meant to find out, they’d find out.

Kadimah was as ordinary as a church hall, and as extraordinary as a landing of Well’s Martians. It was as sane as porridge and as lunatic as singing mice.

Ruddy Gore–a mix of Chinese, Welsh, and Australian

Ruddy Gore

by Kerry Greenwood

Ruddy GoreThe inimitable Phryne Fisher and her friend Bunji find themselves in the middle of a very physical Chinese family dispute, which is only a subplot in this tale, as they are on their way to the theatre to enjoy a presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Ruddigore. Following that initial conflict, they make their way to His Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne, and the reader is presented with the one weak portion of the novel. In the guise of encouraging Bunji, a very minor character in the book, to stay and enjoy the opera, Phryne summarizes the plot of the opera for her. Greenwood is attempting to share background for her unfolding story which centers around an old and a new murder and mysterious occurrences at the “Maj.” Both the cast and the characters they play are important in Ruddy Gore’s storyline, but this portion of the book, really only part of a chapter, was more extensive than necessary.

With the background sufficiently established, the plot moves quickly as Phryne is initially mystified, and then gradually peels off the layers of this puzzle.  As always with a Phryne Fisher novel, there are descriptions of her delightful ensembles and her romantic encounters. Dot, her companion, is called in to help with the investigation. Detective Inspector Jack Robinson views Miss Fisher as more likely to obtain information from the cast than he is, and so they cooperate and share information.

The Chinese connection through her love interest, Lin Chung, presents the thread of racial intolerance and prejudice from both sides. Lin and Phryne discuss the history of the Chinese in Australia and how the Chinese have adapted and coped. Phryne is the subject of discrimination herself from the Chinese and handles it well.

Phryne Fisher is undoubtedly rich as evidenced by her spending and lifestyle. She is not selfish, however, and her magnanimity occurs on a personal level. In this story she identifies a situation in which a stage boy with few options but much promise is being abused by his alcoholic father. Phryne doesn’t try to change the world, but she does change this boy’s world by providing him with opportunities. She doesn’t make him a charity case, suggesting that he repay her at a future date. She is also resourceful in engaging the cooperation of others in helping him.

Ruddy Gore is a wealth of incidental information about the theatre, actors, technical people, and management. All of these play a role in the mysteries which are resolved in the end, quite satisfactorily, leaving the reader anticipating further adventures starring Phryne Fisher.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Notes: #7 in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries but reads well as a standalone

Publication:   April 4, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

“He will always get everything that he wants and never get the one thing which he really desires—that’s how it works with bounders,” observed Phryne.

No harm in him but as self-centred as a gyroscope.

“Have you ever heard of hiraeth?” he asked, his eyes staring sadly across endless seas. “No, what is that?” “A Welsh thing, hard to translate. ‘Yearning,’ perhaps. ‘Longing’ is more like it. All of us have it, however happy we are. The yearning for home, even if we shook the dust off our shoes in loathing and swore never to return to the cold damp streets and the cold narrow people and the flat beer and the chapels fulminating endlessly against sin.”

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