RogerBW's Blog

Unnatural Habits, Kerry Greenwood 02 April 2019

2012 historical detection, nineteenth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Pregnant girls are going missing from the Magdalene Laundry; an intrepid, if not too bright, reporter gets on their trail, then goes missing too.

Which means lots of investigation around the laundry and its ancillary functions, and Greenwood tries to keep an even hand: sure, these people are cruel and the conditions are terrible, but the church is shown to have some virtues as well rather than being villainous for the sake of it. (Though there's very little mention of the other side of the deal, how the rest of society was happy to look the other way in return for having somewhere out of sight that pregnant unmarried women could be sent.)

The subject matter is generally darker than in some of the previous books, with various sorts of abuse of children, and even Phryne is overcome at times. Some threads are tied off before others, which makes the ending a little drawn-out and laboured. But the seriousness of the crimes is effectively balanced by Phryne's no-nonsense approach to identifying, tracking and catching the villains as she passes through brothels, a gay club (apparently historical, though largely fanciful as records are scant), a newsroom, and much worse places.

Clearly, Mrs. Donnelly had to be added to the bag. And what seemed to be an increasing crowd on the gallows. It was going to be like Tyburn Fair Day. Phryne would have to buy a new hat.

Of course this is still a Greenwood, so you know that certain sorts of people will never be the villains, but there's definitely more meat to this than some of the recent volumes which are rather more of the "What fun!" school of detection. This book sees a welcome return of Phryne the avenger as well as giving us Phryne the clever thinker as usual. Followed by Murder and Mendelssohn

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Previous in series: Dead Man's Chest | Series: Phryne Fisher | Next in series: Murder and Mendelssohn

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