I wasn’t sure that I needed another series of books well into double figures in my life, but as soon as I heard about her I knew that I had to meet the Honourable Phryne Fisher.
As the story opened she was a socialite, in London, in the Roaring Twenties. And, lovely though that may sound on a damp, grey evening in the twenty-first century, she was just a little bit bored.
A misjudged practical joke at a society party was the catalyst that changed her life. Phryne saw what had happened, and stepped in to save the day with a wonderful combination a charm, diplomacy and quick thinking. I couldn’t help but like her.
The next day Phryne was summoned by a Colonel and Mrs Harper. They had concerns about their daughter in Australia. They had doubts about her husband. Would Prynne consider making the long journey to find out what was going on?
Our heroine was intrigued. She had been born in Australia, and her family had been dirt poor until they received a substantial legacy from a distant relation and stepped into a brand new life. That made her a very interesting proposition: a wealthy, independent, modern young woman with a depth of understanding that her contemporaries lacked.
No wonder she was bored with London society!
And of course she said yes!
From then on the story was a whirl.
Phrynetravelled with a pioneering lady doctor – like Prynne, a supporter of Doctor Stopes – and that brought a backstreet abortionist to her attention. She had to do something about that!
She found a young woman in a desperate situation and stepped in to help, transforming her into a lady’s maid.
And of course there was the case that sent her to Australia in the first place. Phryne would become entangled with a handsome young ballet dancer, a drugs baron and a communist plot before she found some quite unexpected answers.
The juxtaposition of serious issues – birth control and drug addiction – and frivolity – a wonderful array of frocks and dalliances with young men – is rather strange. Most of the time I liked it, but I did have moments when I was heartily sick of wardrobe details and just wanted something to happen.
Phryne was wonderfully capable in all of her dealings, always a step ahead, and on some days that would have bothered me a great deal but on the day I read this book it bothered me just a little.
Because the story was as colourful as its cover. It had plenty going on, the characters were simply but clearly drawn, the period and the settings were well realised … and the heroine is a star.
In the end I have to say that this was a charming, undemanding period piece, with just enough substance to hold it down.
The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.
“Each week, beginning Monday 21 May 2012, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”
So next week, H is for … ?