RogerBW's Blog

Ruddy Gore, Kerry Greenwood 09 March 2014

Seventh in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series.

Phryne is a young, beautiful, intelligent, rich, socially acceptable lady living in Melbourne in the 1920s, who amelioriates her occasional boredom by working as a private detective.

As in The Green Mill Murder, there are two major plots going on here, but they're more neatly separated into primary and secondary than that volume managed. Two actors in a production of Ruddigore are poisoned, one of them fatally, and this is regarded as the latest manifestation of the ghost that's haunting the company; and Phryne helps break up a street fight among the Chinese population of Melbourne, and gets superficially involved in that community.

The occasional preachiness continues: this time it's mostly in the secondary plot and against racism, though homophobia gets a look-in too. I suppose it's inevitable that a period story written to appeal to modern readers must give its protagonist a modern attitude, but I'm not convinced that such heavy-handed lectures are useful or welcome to any reader.

The main mystery is pleasingly arranged, with deep hooks into the lore of Gilbert and Sullivan that was clearly a major part of the research for the book. It does sometimes feel a bit synthetic, but that's somewhat deliberate: a baby mislaid at birth and recognised by birthmark is a suitably Gilbertian plot. (Though, for the hard-of-thinking reader, Greenwood has her characters point out that it is, which is a bit of a shame. They do otherwise manage to play things straight, though.)

Where this series shines is in its secondary characters; some of them are stereotypes, such as here the beautiful but dim lead actress, but mostly they're plausible real people of the era and place.

Probably not a good place to start the series. Followed by Urn Burial.

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