Blood and Circuses, the 6th Phryne Fisher mystery, is so far, the least satisfying, and I think I know why. Kerry Green...moreI can tell what happened here.
Blood and Circuses, the 6th Phryne Fisher mystery, is so far, the least satisfying, and I think I know why. Kerry Greenwood has written the character for 6 books and five years at this point. I can almost hear her inner monologue: Am I in a rut? Are all of the books going to follow a pattern? Do I want to switch things up a bit? She did that.
This is essentially supposed to be a fish out of water story, with Phryne playing the fish. Specifically a play on a subtrope of FOW -- City Mouse. Phryne is stripped of her wealth, privilege, house, car and family. How will she survive? Except Ms. Greenwood seems to forget what she has told us in each of the other five books in the series: Phryne can take care of herself, that is her superpower. She grew up poor. She didn't gain wealth until she was a teen and even then, didn't take it seriously. She was always Rose in first class finding a poor bloke as a lover and dancing with the rabble in steerage. So now we're to believe that going into the countryside and living for a few weeks with a traveling tent circus will bring her nearly to the breaking point? That she will be so weakened she will take a lover not out of libidinous desire, but for protection? Um, no.
For much of the book there are two story-lines: Phrynie's circus investigation and Lt. Robinson's Melbourne murder. Obviously they were linked and it took until the last act of the book to bring them together. Some of the plot details were sketchy and there were also a few jarring perspective shifts in this one. The period and circus vs freaks research was flawless. I think Ms. Greenwood was so busy showing off her talents at meticulous detail, story and structure suffered.
Basically, Phryne lost her agency, just enough, and in such an unbelievably trivial (for her) way, it lost me. I get why Ms. Greenwood did it, but the reason Phryne broke was just too little. Phryne is a superhero. She's Bond. She's Nero Wolfe. She's flawed, but she doesn't break easily. I just didn't buy it and to be honest, I don't think Ms. Greenwood did either.(less)
In early 1928 England, bored, wealthy 28 year-old aristocrat Phryne Fisher (pronounced 'fry-nee') solves a minor mystery at a dinner when she finds a...moreIn early 1928 England, bored, wealthy 28 year-old aristocrat Phryne Fisher (pronounced 'fry-nee') solves a minor mystery at a dinner when she finds a stolen necklace. One of her fellow guests is impressed by her skill at deduction and asks her to solve a case for him in Australia. Phryne returns to her native land, solves the case and becomes a private detective. Taking Melbourne and the rest of Victoria by storm with her class, skills, flair and talent for continually doing scandalous things, she quickly builds up a group of friends and allies- everyone from a pair of Communist cab drivers to one of the few female doctors in the country- while solving her case.
I came to the book series because of the adapted Australian TV series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. Several changes have been made from the books. Phryne is no ordinary aristocrat,she can fly a plane, drives her own car (a Hispano-Suiza), smokes, drinks, dances, has "friends in low places" and sometimes wears trousers. However, while displaying bohemian panache, she manages also to maintain style and class. Phryne is a hero, a female Bond or Saint, but with fewer product endorsements and a better class of lovers. She's an empowered female hero with agency and free as a male hero. She takes at least two lovers in each book, never looking back once he pulls his trousers on and walks out of her bedroom door. In book 5, she flies to a tiny village in the Australian Alps. She brings with her a change of clothes, her gun and her diaphragm (because, you just never know).
It's my belief that instead of being Kerry Greenwood's Mary Sue, Phryne deserves her place in the Wold Newton Family. Phryne is preternaturally intelligent, street-wise and strong. She's an expert with guns, knives (throwing and Apache-style fighting) and at judo. She can crack a safe with ease and disguise herself so even her closest allies won't recognize her. She's also a trained stunt and long-distance pilot with her own plane and trained racecar driver with her own (barely street legal) car. She deserves to be listed as an equal with others in the Wold Newton Family: Sherlock Holmes; Tarzan; Doc Savage; Lord Peter Wimsey, Bulldog Drummond; Fu Manchu The Shadow; Sam Spade; Nero Wolfe and Lew Archer.
Ms. Greenwood's writing gets better with each book. Her strengths are her amazing eye for detail and accurate period detail.(less)
Hedy is the titular focus, but Richard Rhodes focuses as much attention on her partner, composer George Antheil. Hedy's Folly is well researched but i...moreHedy is the titular focus, but Richard Rhodes focuses as much attention on her partner, composer George Antheil. Hedy's Folly is well researched but its focus drifted heavily and whenever it gravitated into scientific information it became bone dry.(less)