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20 September 2013

Kerry Greenwood: Murder and Mendelssohn

Confession of a Phryne Fisher addict
Confession: I am addicted to Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series and got really excited that #20 in the series is published. My excitement was not in vain as Kerry Greenwood (and Phryne) are still at the top of their form.

For those who don't know about Phryne (pronounced fry-knee) Fisher here is a quick resume. She was born in in Melbourne, the daughter of an impoverished younger son of an English peer. Her father inherited the title and wealth when his elder brothers died before him. She was sent to an exclusive girl's school in England which produced an independent approach to life. She drove an ambulance to rescue wounded at the front line in the Somme, spent some time in military intelligence, became an impoverished artist's model in Paris of the early 1920's and returned to Melbourne in 1928, a rich independent young woman looking for adventure - which she found as a female sleuth.

Phryne soon found an impressive home on the beachside at St Kilda and collected an eclectic and addictive mix of family, friends, and  followers/helpers to share her life (and her sleuthing). First and foremost, there is Dot, her very ordinary but very capable personal assistant and Mr and Mrs Butler, housekeepers and chauffeur extraordinaire. Her adopted teenage daughters Jane (a budding Doctor) and Ruth (a superb chef) were plucked by Phryne from poverty and slavery and her adopted son, Tinker, was a former street waif. Her first followers were Bert and Cec, snipers at Gallipoli, now dock workers, taxi drivers and communist sympathisers. During her first case Phryne met hard working, long suffering and ordinary Detective Inspector Jack Robinson who has to cope with the fallout from Phryne's investigations.

Phryne is stylish, beautiful, intelligent and selectively promiscuous (with Lin Chung, a leader of the local Chinese community being her long term lover). Her household never questions the stream of handsome young men Phryne brings home to her luxurious boudoir apartment in her house.

This mystery features all of these regulars, except Lin Chung who is away in Hong Kong on business. Phryne meets an old friend and lover, Dr John Wilson, who she knew from the days on the Somme when they comforted one another physically in the back of her ambulance with shells bursting overhead. While John is more attracted to his own sex he still cannot resist Phryne's charms. He confides that he is besotted by his companion, the handsome, rude and enigmatic code-breaker Rupert Sheffield but his feelings are not returned. Warning: some readers may not be comfortable with issues of love between men which are discussed extensively but not explicitly.

The main mystery this time is the murder of successive conductors who are rehearsing a local choir for a performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah - all of them pretty obnoxious people. Kerry Greenwood shows her extensive knowledge of choral music and conjures up a diverse group of amateur choristers, most with an immense thirst for alcohol, any of whom could be the murderer. The main problem for Phryne is that she wants to entertain the most handsome chorister but can't do so until the murderer is found. When the murderer was found Phryne got her wishes - and she always likes happy endings!

While this book can be read as a stand-alone, I would recommend starting reading #1 and #3 to get a good background to Phryne's early days in Melbourne as she gathers together her family, friends and followers.

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