Greenwood’s twentieth Phryne Fisher novel, and I think her best yet. DI Jack Robinson brings Phryne the case file of a conductor who has, apparently, been suffocated by someone stuffing most of the score of a Mendelssohn oratorio down his throat. Either it’s murder or a really pissed off music critic.
But this book isn’t only or even mostly about the murder. Doctor John Wilson, whom Phryne knew from her days as an ambulance driver in WWI, is in town, and in unrequited love with his employer, mathematician Rupert Sheffield. The stumbling, bumbling love affair between these two men is really touching, and Phryne’s dea ex machina efforts to speed them on their rose-colored way are, shall we say, innovative and at times hilarious, and always poignant. In 1928, the love that dare not speak its name was socially abhorrent, not to mention illegal. Given current events, it’s a powerful reminder of how far we’ve come.
And in the background, the guns of World War I are always thundering. We get more of Phryne’s frontline experiences (I started to say adventures but that’s way too romantic a noun to describe what happened to her and John there). Phryne and John are survivors of that conflict that killed most of a generation of young men, but they didn’t come out of it unscathed. Phryne also has cause to dip into her MI5 past (she got around), with fun results.
All of Phryne’s ménage is present and accounted for (I’m really liking the way Tinker is developing, and I want to steal Mr. and Mrs. Butler), and the author notes at the end (on gay recognition signs, WWI argot, and especially Compton MacKenzie–what was the TV show????) are worth reading all by themselves. As a writer I especially appreciate this
…I can’t write psychopaths. I have to get inside a character to put them in a novel and I have enough nightmares as it is.
After I read this book I went back and reread Cocaine Blues, the first in the series, and then I reread my favorite, Blood and Circuses, where Phryne runs away from her safe, luxurious life to the circus. It’s a case, of course it is, but not only does Phryne learn how to ride a horse standing up she learns she can triumph against the bad guys on her own. And there is a love story ended abruptly by murder that breaks her heart, and will break yours, too.
In fact the whole series holds up well. You want a binge read? Here you go.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.