Title: Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher #4)
Author: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: First published 1992, this edition published March 2005.
Synopsis: Phryne Fisher returns in her fourth magical mystery amidst bullets, sexy ex-anarchists, furs, tattooists and silken lingerie.
The devastating Phryne Fisher is under fire again in her fourth mystery.
A very young man with muddied hair, a pierced ear and a blue tattoo lies cradled in Phryne’s arms. But sadly it’s not another scene of glorious seduction – this time it’s death.
The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, beautifully dressed in loose trousers, a cream silk shirt and a red-fox fur has just had her windscreen shot out inches in front of her divine nose. But worse is the fate of the pale young man lying on the road, his body hit by bullets, who draws his final blood-filled breath with Phryne at his side.
Outraged by this brutal slaughter, Phryne promises to find out who is responsible. But Phryne doesn’t yet know how deeply into the mire she’ll have to go – bank robbery, tattoo parlours, pubs, spiritualist halls and the Anarchists.
Along this path, Phryne meets Peter, a battle-scarred, sexy Slav, who offers much more to her than just information. But all thoughts of these delights flee from Phryne’s mind when her beloved maid, Dot, disappears. There’s nothing Phryne won’t do to get her back safely.
Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher is back, and solving another mystery. This time, she must work with ex-anarchists to uncover who killed the young man who died in her silk clad arms, and find out what has happened to a young girl, Alicia Waddington-Forsythe, who attends the same school as her adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, and why she has gone missing. Managing both cases, she goes from adoring hostess and mother to undercover anarchist with a change of clothes, and finds that there is one named Peter, who catches her eye in more ways than one, and her style certainly catches his attention, and devotion. He becomes her go between in the anarchist world, and assists her in the case, eager to help, keen to see justice done, whoever the killer is. As usual, the Butlers are there, keeping the secrets that come through the house, as is Dot, who is becoming more and more adventurous with each story, but still maintains her innocence despite Phryne’s influence, and Bert and Cec are always on hand when she needs them.
Throughout the series, Kerry Greenwood’s titular character straddles the divide between what is expected of a woman of the 1920s in Australia and of her class station, yet at the same time, steps away from this as often as possible, feeling comfortable in both skins, knowing a world of poverty and war, and a world of wealth and comfort. Neither world escapes death or disappearance and scandal, though, and this is why she is able to engage so fluidly in both and understand how both worlds work, and the struggles and privileges she herself has been through drive her sense of self and dogged sense of justice, even if she is a tad unorthodox in how she solves crimes, worrying Constable Collins and Detective Inspector Robinson, yet at the same time, they watch in awe as she gets results and access that they can only dream of as they have to work within the confines of the law. Phryne, as a private detective, is not as constrained.
Book four does not disappoint. It has everything from murder to mayhem, order and intrigue, mystery and how society views outsiders and the consequences to people’s indiscretions, crimes and assumptions. Not only does Kerry Greenwood turn gender roles and expectations on their head, and show the spectrum of what women did in the late 1920s, but also turns society on it’s head, showing the flaws in class divisions and how class and status don’t make you better or worse than someone in a class below: in fact, having a character who has experienced both ends of the spectrum allows for the flaws, and the good and the bad for each level in the social structure to be revealed for what they are. The characters are also very Australian, ensuring that the Aussie flavour of literature is well served in bookstores and libraries for Australian readers keen to see their world in books.
Phryne excels in Death at Victoria Dock with the dual mystery to solve, and sets out to achieve results in both cases and in furthering her personal relationships in true Phryne Fisher style, often much to the horror of her maid Dot, who still goes along with whatever Phryne has planned, though makes her concerns known. What i enjoy about this series is that the characters are not merely stereotypes but that their layers and personalities shine through and each book reveals more about them, and shows their growth. It is an engaging series that I am working my way through, and hope to have finished by the end of this year as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.