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
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'
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.