More Phyrne Fisher stories

Queen of the Flowers and Death by Water by Kerry Greenwood. The selection of books and dvds at the library has been rather tepid lately, so I ventured back to Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series once again. These two books are good examples of an author can display variety within a somewhat formulaic series. Most of the Fisher books follow the same basic plot: a central mystery plus a secondary sub-plot, Phryne engaging in a sexual dalliance with a “pretty young man,” and a fair bit of Australian late-1920s historical information and language in a light-hearted style. Yes, there are frequently murders and the dirty underbelly of Melbourne is exposed, but somehow Phryne, her companion Dot, the rest of her extended household seem to float above it. In the first of these two stories, Phryne has been named Queen of the Lady Mayor’s celebratory Bazaar and Parade complete with a quartet of flower maidens. The primary mystery occurs when one of the young ladies disappears days before the event. The solution to the mystery itself is relatively uncomplicated without a crescending climax, but the story departs from the norm in that despite the presence of a circus, carnival and parading elephants, the tone of this book is much darker than any of the others I’ve read. Phyrne and her associates, Bert and Cec, spend considerable time with the city’s major criminals or on dark, lonely beaches or rescuing young girls from dangerous situations. The second book is much brighter as Phyrne and Dot take to a cruise line between Melbourne and New Zealand to solve a series of jewel heists. Phryne is completely in her element, rising late in the morning before mingling with the well-to-do victims and suspects on board, each with their own secrets and jealousies. The absence of several of the recurring household characters is balanced by an interesting array of crew members including an all-female band. The “Golden Age” atmosphere prevalent just prior to the Great Depression is well-described here and there is also a lot of Maori history and culture. The solution is a bit far-fetched, but there is a nice, unexpected twist even after the case is solved. Fans of sea-going mysteries will enjoy this one. One common feature to both books is that Greenwood ends each chapter with copies of letters. Readers will want to pay close attention to the letters in the first adventure as they have a direct bearing on the secondary plot and the those in the second follow the sea-going theme, but I haven’t been able to determine a more subtle connection, if one exists.


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