Title: Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery
Author: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: June 2005
Synopsis: This is where it all started! The first classic Phryne Fisher mystery, featuring our delectable heroine, cocaine, communism and adventure. Phryne leaves the tedium of English high society for Melbourne, Australia, and never looks back.
The first of Phryne’s adventures from Australia’s most elegant and irrepressible sleuth.
The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honourable Phryne Fisher – she of the green-grey eyes, diamante garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions – is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.
Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism – not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse – until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street.
Phryne Fisher’s life in London is slightly dull, despite the elegant parties she attends, the tedious nature of activities deemed appropriate for the women in her circle have her longing for excitement. Her preference for outfits that leave little to the imagination and that society may deem scandalous, and her raucous driving make her stand out – something Phryne does not mind in the least.
Her zest for adventure takes her across the seas to Melbourne, and the Windsor Hotel, where she meets a variety of characters, and her maid, Dot, begins to accompany her. Soon, Phryne is caught up in a seedy, yet to her, fascinating and exciting world of poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings and false accusations from corrupt cops, looking to take advantage of their position and power on an unsuspecting public. The backdrop of the twenties and the rise of communism in the interwar period, and leading into the tumultuous years of the Great Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe to come, Phryne finds herself looking into where the drugs are coming from and who is poisoning people, and performing back alley abortions that have led to death and serious injury. It all leads to a steamy end in Lonsdale’s Turkish baths, where true identities are revealed, and where people who were once thought to be trustworthy are proven otherwise.
Phryne Fisher’s first outing balances the expectations of gender and class of the twenties, and the delicate sensibilities certain people are assumed to have. It introduces the conflict of communism with other political ideologies and shows that everyone has shades of grey, and you can’t always trust someone because of their standing in society.
The first of twenty books, Cocaine Blues is only a hint of what is to come in Phryne’s world, where political ideologies and societal expectations will certainly always play a part in the way the stories unfold. It introduces the characters nicely, and the way Phryne is described is nicely done – she of the grey-green eyes – it certainly presents an image in one’s mind of the character and what to expect. Set in the twenties, everyone lives in the shadow of World War One, and the Bolshevik revolution. Anti-communist sentiment permeates the storyline and sets the scene. It is a cosy crime series, where the murder is conducted off-screen, and the amateur detective just happens to outwit the police officers, and perhaps everyone else involved as she goes along.
A great read, a divine introduction and a series I would like to continue reading.