RogerBW's Blog

The Castlemaine Murders, Kerry Greenwood 26 August 2016

2003 historical detection, thirteenth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Phryne investigates a mummified corpse found in a carnival attraction.

This is another multi-threaded book: Phryne deals with her ancient murder, her lover Lin Chung (now taking over as head of the family) deals with an old disappearance that's also related to Castlemaine in the gold rush days of the 1850s, and Phryne's younger sister has turned up from England with an unexpected dose of snobbery.

Greenwood's tendency to exoticisation of the Chinese is restrained here, as Lin Chung is mostly dealing with members of his own family: this story is clearly the result of a research-fest about the Australian gold rush, and perhaps there's a bit too much coincidence that both the old mysteries turn up at the same time, but the result is enjoyable even if it has a tendency to fall into historical infodumps about people like Constable Thomas Cooke.

There's not much mystery to who is causing trouble in the present day, since there aren't really many candidates, but why may present a little more difficulty. There's old murder, a family feud, lost gold, and even a genuine zvffvat urve. Phryne extricates herself from a perilous situation via guile rather than dexterity, which suits her well. The obligatory sex scene is tacked on at the end of the story, and feels even more obligatory than usual. If you don't spot the nature of Phryne's sister's problem by chapter four then you haven't begun to get inside Greenwood's head. Many of the large continuing cast are entirely absent, but I think this is better than forcing them into a story that already has a fair amount going on.

"But, Phryne, it's serious," urged Eliza, grabbing Phryne's cognac hand and almost spilling her drink.

As always in these books, one has to accept that Phryne is Always Right, though I found her less overbearing than in some previous volumes; it helps that Lin Chung is off doing his own thing and making his own discoveries and deductions. In many respects this is more his book than hers, and while I'm obviously edgy about a white woman writing about Chinese culture the job appears to have been done reasonably well.

One could probably start the series here without being lost, but it gains a great deal from the reader's already knowing these people. Followed by Queen of the Flowers.

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Previous in series: Murder in Montparnasse | Series: Phryne Fisher | Next in series: Queen of the Flowers

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