RogerBW's Blog

Murder in the Dark, Kerry Greenwood 15 September 2017

2006 historical detection, sixteenth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Phryne is invited to a decadent Christmas party at Chirnside Manor; someone's trying to discredit and kill the hosts. She might not have gone, except that someone's sent her a coral snake to discourage her.

Yes, this is Phryne's first Christmas in Australia: all the books to date have been set during 1928. What a busy life Phryne leads.

And there's an awful lot going on here. Gerald and Isabella Templar are lightweight cult leaders but apparently mostly harmless, except for the drugs; there's kidnapping, murder for hire, and ground glass in the cold cream. Not all of these prove to have the same cause.

And there are orgies, a game of polo, bathing in the lake, jazz concerts, party games, exotic feasts, a delicate seduction… of course some of the reason I keep reading these books is the padding, which may have nothing to do with the crime but is still interesting. It doesn't advance the plot but I enjoy it even so. If you're after a more conventional puzzle story, this probably won't work as well for you.

"I am waiting on developments," Phryne replied. "And there is no rule in the detective's handbook that says I can't enjoy myself while I am waiting. And if there is," she added, "it's silly and I don't propose to take any notice of it."

Some of the mystery is easy to solve; some of it is rather harder. Very little seems to have any connection to conventional clues and deduction; one has to do it by narrative shape (why is this person being mentioned repeatedly when he/she seems like a very minor character), which always feels to me like cheating.

There's not much of Phryne's usual support crew, with Dot and Mr Butler relegated to bit parts and most of the others getting only cameos. That's a shame, but this book worked for me, and I'm glad to see Greenwood not simply recycling the same material and settings all the time.

Followed by Murder on a Midsummer Night.

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