Friday, November 26, 2010

Crime Fiction: Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry Greenwood

When Kerry Greenwood created the rich, beautiful, intelligent Jazz Age sleuth, Phryne Fisher, she was expecting the series to last for about two books. Because she knew all about 1928, that was the year in which it was to be set, permanently. Seventeen books later, the author has finally had to move to January 1929. Phryne Fisher has returned to the Australian coastal town Queenscliff, scene of her second adventure, Flying Too High. That time she was in Queenscliff as part of a kidnapping case, and stayed at the gorgeous Queenscliff Hotel -- the same place where, because of that novel, I used to have lunch once a year on the verandah, looking out to sea.

Phryne is back in Dead Man’s Chest (Allen and Unwin/Poisoned Pen Press) with her faithful maid and companion, Dot Williams, her two adopted daughters, Ruth and Jane, and her dog, Molly, and they’re staying in a borrowed holiday home. There will, of course, be absolutely no investigations!

But where Phryne Fisher goes, mystery follows -- or, in this case, precedes. When the family arrives, the live-in servants, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, are missing. No property is unaccounted for except food, and valuables have been stashed away for safe-keeping. But the Johnsons’ furniture is gone and a removalist was seen arriving at the house.

This gives young Ruth, the would-be cook, a chance to make meals for the family while Phryne investigates the disappearance. Queenscliff is never dull, what with the missing couple, a group of surrealists next door, a nosy old lady across the road, who might have seen something, a historical film being made down on the beach and some nasty goings-on nearby.

Phryne investigates, but she takes a step back in this novel and lets other characters come to the fore. She also has a new sidekick to add to her entourage; it will be interesting to see where he goes.

As always, the story is a lot of fun, offering adventure, baddies, and plenty of lovingly detailed descriptions of both meals and Phryne’s clothes. This author knows her era, but doesn’t overwhelm you with it. I remember speaking to an older gentleman in the signing queue for the last book and he said he remembered the ’30s, not that different from the ’20s, and she had it absolutely right. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and, most recently, the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog, The Great Raven, can be found at

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