Author Kerry Greenwood introduces a new mystery heroine in her 2012 book, Cocaine Blues. Phryne Fisher is different from a typical late 1920’s female sleuth in many ways. First, she’s based in Melbourne, Australia instead of the more typical New York, London, or Paris. Of course, that means I can’t picture the landmarks mentioned in my head. But it’s a strong new angle, complete with Aussie accents.
Also, Phryne is neither uber-wealthy nor down-on-her-luck. She’s a combination of both, with her family’s fortunes recently improved from the latter to the former. So, she revels in her status, with an understanding that she’s lucky to have it. I found this attitude quite different from a character who’s always been wealthy and just proceeds without self-awareness.
In this story, Phryne is newly returned to Melbourne with her wealthier status. The England-based parents of a young society matron are worried for her health and ask Phryne to investigate.
So, our heroine dives right into the fray, inserting herself expertly into the necessary social circles. But her supporting characters aren’t so hoity toity—she hangs with a dancer, some cabbies, her maid, and a female physician. Along the path to the mystery’s solution, Phryne and Greenwood tackle drug use, addiction, trafficking, illegal street abortions, and women’s place in society.
Greenwood’s writing style balances the fun with the serious, and it’s easy to lose track of time while visiting 1920s Melbourne. And, oh my, is Phryne a rebel. And that’s the best part of all. She’s not afraid of a little sex, drugs, and wild times. And even so, Greenwood gives her a softer more caring side as well. And that made me like her all the more.
I’m very late to the Phryne Fisher fan club, considering Greenwood already has 20-something books published in the series. But this might just be the perfect escape for the world of 2021. I especially like how the author packs a few pages (book one is under 200 pages) with intriguing plot twists and character studies. No off-track ramblings here.
I recommend this series if you haven’t already found your 2021 historical mystery choices. Even if you have, these will squeeze right in between and be a perfect palate cleanser.
Pair with something serious about addiction, like Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. Or try another historical mystery in a unique location like The Widows of Malabar Hill (Purveen Mistry #1) by Sujata Massey.