I don’t know what I’m going to do when Kerry Greenwood stops writing her Phyrne Fisher series – an important part of my festive season tradition, ordering the book from Australia well in advance, then saving it up for a couple of luxury hours, will fall apart.
Luckily, Greenwood’s been doing one a year for a long time now, since starting with Cocaine Blues back in 1989, and her latest, Dead Man’s Chest, lives up to the usual high standard of lively writing, inventive plotting and interesting background research about the odder corners of 1920s Australia through the eyes of a dashing, happily sexual, resolutely single, very rich and enterprisingly adventurous flapper.
This time Phyrne’s on holiday in the resort town of Queenscliff with her faithful maid and two adopted daughters, but of course it turns out, even sooner than might have seemed possible, that she can’t avoid mystery, when the apparently devoted butler/cook couple who are expected to be in the house she’s borrowing, are missing. That’s after she’s done her usual standing up for the underdog in defending a fish-delivery boy from the not-so-tender mercy of some upper-class yobs.
In the typical way of Greenwood’s nattily intricate plotting, this is all interconnected with an epidemic of pigtail-slashing, the bewitching arrival of an early film company, a hidden room full of bones collected by a dubious anthropologist, Bundberg rum smuggling, and a hidden pirate’s treasure.
There’s lots of lingering over lovely meals – provided for the first time by Phyrne’s adopted daughter Ruth, but rather less on wardrobes than usual, given the limitations of seaside attire, the visual pleasures this time coming chiefly from the town’s surprising resident community of surrealists, which Phyrne of course manages to dazzle with the sophistication of her Parisien past.
Suspend disbelief, see if you can find someone to make you a nice jug of cocktails ala Phryne, and you can settle down for a delightful bout of fictional feminine derring-do. Just the thing for the digestion.