RogerBW's Blog

Dead Man's Chest, Kerry Greenwood 29 November 2018

2010 historical detection, eighteenth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Phryne is on holiday, with daughters and maid, in the seaside resort of Queenscliff, where the servants meant to come with her rented house have vanished (along with the furniture); and that's only the first mystery.

This does mean extensive domestic rearrangements; Phryne's daughter Ruth is happy to step up and be cook, which somehow doesn't consume all her time. Various other staff are acquired as Phryne uses her gifts for getting work out of people whom nobody else has been able to motivate. People soon start coming to her with their problems (particularly, alas, early in the morning), and soon she's dealing with hooligan boys, smugglers, a phantom hair snipper, a film being made on the beach, a slightly suspicious death (the weakest part of the story, with behaviour that makes no sense when it's all worked out), and pirate treasure. And of course the missing servants, who turn out to be surprisingly easy to find by accident the moment anyone bothers to try…

Unusually, perhaps uniquely, for a Phryne Fisher story, there's no sex (perhaps sensible in a small town with an efficient grapevine). A local Surrealist Club is an interesting contrast to the boring spiritualists of the previous book; they're just as consciously Different, but they at least know that they are being it and are getting some fun out of it. However, a mention of someone being put away in a "nice safe mental home" is perhaps less reassuring than it's meant to be to those of us who know something of the treatment of the criminally insane in the 1920s.

Everything goes along on its fairly predictable course, without only a little deduction, and lots of domestic detail. There's no dig into an Australian subculture here as some of the previous books have had (though Phryne in her element, as here, usually works better than when she's pushed out of it). There is very little here to surprise the series reader, and while you could start here and not be confused I'm not sure why anyone would bother.

Followed by Unnatural Habits.

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