RogerBW's Blog

Death by Water, Kerry Greenwood 20 April 2017

2005 historical detection, fifteenth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). After a series of jewel thefts aboard the SS Hinemoa, Phryne is employed by P&O as both detective and bait.

On previous occasions, for example with Urn Burial and particularly Blood and Circuses, I've been unimpressed when Phryne is removed from her native setting: the family she's built up round herself is an important part of these stories. But here she's disconnected from all of that except for Dot her maid-companion, and it works; perhaps because, unlike the circus, this is a world in which she does know the ropes and how to get on, and unlike the country house, she is able to make more allies at once.

The potential thieves are all assigned to the same table, and it's pretty clear that most of them are Nice and only a few are Nasty, so it's really a matter of matching up the nasty people with their specific sins. The nice people are all thoroughly non-racist and accepting of foreign cultures, in a way that doesn't seem entirely reasonable for 1928 but I suppose is not impossible; meanwhile, the Maori crew are all eager to help Phryne, but then again so is pretty much everyone else. Views into Maori culture are relentlessly respectful.

The titular Death doesn't occur until a fair way into the story, and most of what's going on is fairly clear by that point, though several important details are left for the reader to fill in. Greenwood carries on her recent habit of ending chapters with extracts from letters, though this time they have little to do with the main plot. A group of musicians provides some welcome changes of pace, and some passing references to the Attenbury Emeralds do no harm (though of course they're not consistent with Walsh's later expansion of Sayers' original hints).

This is a bit of a change of pace from recent books, with many long and leisurely conversations and relatively little action, and I think the series benefits from it. Followed by Murder in the Dark.

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