I’d been curious about Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher Mysteries series since I’d heard about it, probably via a “best of Australian mystery writers” list. Phryne Fisher is a beautiful and resourceful gal who might at first be mistaken for a wealthy English aristocrat, though we learn she was born in Australia where she lived in poverty until the passing of a rich relation who left her and her parents a large fortune and a prestigious English estate. We’re in the 1920s, and Phryne, who now has more money than she knows what to do with, isn’t quite sure what she wants to do with her life; marriage doesn’t appeal to her; she’s not much into sewing or embroidery or reading or playing the piano and all those types of quaint activities that are appropriate for ladies of her class aren’t her thing; even having her own stable of racehorses seems like too much trouble, and so on. After she uncovers a thief who’s stolen diamonds from a baroness during a dinner party at her mansion, the couple then asks Phryne whether she’d be willing to investigate their son-in-law, as they suspect he might be poisoning their daughter, thought she’d have to travel to Melbourne, where they are currently living. With this new opportunity before her, Phryne doesn’t hesitate to leave boring London society behind, and makes her way to the colonies for a bit of adventure and excitement. She finds plenty, between a fellow passenger who is an opinionated female doctor out to shake things up, a communist taxi driver who shares his political view as he takes her to her luxurious hotel, then asks for her help when he picks up a young girl in serious trouble, and when she eventually meets a gorgeous Russian male dancer she promptly hops into bed with, all the while investigating a cocaine ring that seems to be operating out of a Turkish bath house.
It’s an appealing jaunt through the roaring 20s via Melbourne, Australia, and while the general tone of the writing pays homage to the great female mystery writers of old, there’s no mistaking that this detective novel was written for a contemporary audience. The doctor friend now heading the women’s hospital uses language to describe female anatomy in a criminal abortion case that would have made an old-time female author blush. Phryne uses her feminine allure with all the attitude a flapper girl, and we’re given details of her sexual proclivities which, though probably not unusual for that type of gal, would certainly never have gotten past the censors back in the day. But beyond all that, you can’t help but like the girl. She’s got plenty of attitude and is also deeply kind and caring, and she’s always impeccably—and appropriately—dressed for every occasion; Greenwood obviously takes great pleasure in giving us detailed descriptions of Phryne’s sartorial choices, along with that of most of the other characters. It’s all good fun with just the right amount of cheek and naughtiness, though I’d probably pass if women’s fashion really isn’t your thing.