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24 January 2013

Kerry Greenwood: Unnatural Habits

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This is arguably one of the best of the Phryne Fisher adventures. I am a long term Phryne (pronounced fry-nee) Fisher fan and highly recommend all of Kerry Greenwood's entertaining and atmospheric series about a rich, titled, beautiful, fashionable, emancipated and very enterprising female sleuth set in Melbourne in 1928-29.

Normally I would say that Phryne's adventures are a romp but this is the most serious one so far. By accident Phryne get involved in a couple of apparently related problems - the disappearance of some pregnant unwed girls and under-age virgin girls.  An enthusiastic journalistic who is asking questions about these girls gets kidnapped. Even more bizarre, a person seemingly dressed as a nun attacks and sterilises some men who are responsible for these pregnancies.

The story examines the contemporary attitude to "fallen women", their "children of shame" and especially the attitudes of the Catholic Church and their Convents to punishment of these women for their sins. Some of the descriptions of their treatment, albeit apparently factual, are pretty harrowing.

To solve this case Phryne calls in favours from all over town - the main brothel owner, the undercover gay's club, and even the Archbishop but most help comes from her extended family of "minions".  Her notionally dysfunctional but amazingly cohesive and  supportive "family" includes Dot her personal assistant and confidant, Jane and Ruth her adopted teenage daughters (who Phryne saved from a life of poverty and slavery), taxi drivers and Communist sympathisers Bert and Cec, Inspector Jack Robinson and Constable Hugh Collins (Dot's boy friend) and even her sapphic sister Eliza and her partner Lady Alice. We are also introduced to Tinker, a 14 year old waif who has recently moved in with the family but after so many years living on the street is only comfortable sleeping in the garden shed.

Compared to other books in the series we see little of Phryne's prolific love life, except an intense interlude when she takes out her frustration with the case by ravishing her long-time Chinese lover Lin Chen.

Phryne Fisher's adventures are easy to read, very addictive, thoroughly entertaining and highly recommended.

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