Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery by Kerry Greenwood

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Title: Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: June 2005

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $22.95

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.

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Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

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Title: Magpie Murders

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Orion/Hachette Australia

Published: 11th October 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She’s worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pünd, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It’s just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway…

But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the cosy crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.

~*~

With Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz delivers a novel within a novel, a mystery within a mystery. The novel begins with editor of Cloverleaf Books, Susan Ryeland, sitting down to read to read the latest from her company’s most popular author, Alan Conway, the ninth book in the Atticus Pünd series. Horowitz has included the manuscript for the reader to read along with the editor, Susan.

The first chunk of the book is dedicated to this manuscript, and as such, the pages are numbered unconventionally – going backwards once Susan has read what she has of the manuscript, sans the closing chapters that reveal the conclusion to the mystery. Conway’s mystery revolves around two deaths: Mary Blakiston, and her employer, Sir Magnus Pye. As Susan Ryeland settles in to read the story, and as I did, it was not evident that Susan’s life and the mystery of the missing pages would soon come to mirror the story she was reading.

Horowitz has taken the cosy crime genre, made popular by Agatha Christie and Poirot, who rate several mentions, along with television shows the author has worked on himself, and refreshed it. An amateur detective, following the trail of clues left from a manuscript, and interactions with people involved. Slowly, and
without extensive police involvement and technology, Susan’s story reaches a climax alongside that of the closing chapters of the mystery of Alan Conway, and the final chapters of his book.

Anthony Horowitz has written a work that is meta. That is, a creative work that is self-referential. It refers to the conventions of the cosy crime genre through the story Susan Ryeland is reading and the mystery she becomes embroiled in, and in making reference to television shows Horowitz himself has worked on and the imprint, Orion, Horowitz has referenced his own world of writing and the world of publishing.

This was a book that I wanted to devour and savour at the same time – the deaths are not seen on the page, but rather mentioned, both in the Conway story and the over-arching story by Horowitz, homage to the genre conventions. As the last few pages ticked over, everything fell into place. The detail, down to reviews for the fictional series by Alan Conway at the beginning of the manuscript, to Anthony Horowitz writing as himself and as a friend of Alan Conway, all make this a worthy read of any fan of the genre, or author.

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan

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Title: The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

Author: Vaseem Khan

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Mulholland Books, an Imprint of Hachette

Published: 10th May 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The delightful second novel in the Mumbai-set Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series. When the Koh-I-Noor diamond is stolen from an exhibition of the crown jewels only one man (and his elephant) can crack the case…

For centuries the Koh-I-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king. Now part of the British Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess.

 

 

So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone’s principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra goes to see the diamond, it is stolen from under his nose in a daring and seemingly impossible heist.

 

 

The hunt is on for the culprits. And when an old friend stands accused, Inspector Chopra takes on the case. With sidekick baby elephant Ganesha in tow, Chopra soon realises that there is more at play than a simple case of greed.

 

~*~

 

Inspector Ashwin Chopra (Retd) and his baby elephant, Ganesha, return in the fabulous follow-up to The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. When the Koh-I-Noor Diamond from the Crown Jewels is stolen from under Chopra’s nose, he must find out who stole it and return it to the right people. Together with Ganesha, Chopra starts his investigation, whilst running a restaurant for cops, where young Irfan works, and his wife, Poppy, recruits his associate detective, Rangwalla, to investigate the theft of a bust and exam papers at a school she works at. These storylines complement each other and run alongside each other neatly. Detectives from England, Bomberton and the young Scot, McTavish, assist Chopra – working together, these characters bring the worlds of Great Britain and Mumbai together. United by the desires and need to find the missing jewel that connects their two countries, Bomberton and Chopra forge a relationship to achieve these goals.

Ganesha becomes involved in tracking down the diamond and gaining access to the homes of certain high-up criminals who have an interest in having the diamond – and his unique position and abilities as an elephant are soon catching the attentions of various people who wish him harm. As in the first book, Ganesha will have none of this, and when separated from those he loves, will do all he can to find them – even if it means going without his Cadbury’s chocolate for a while!

Vaseem Khan has created a multi-layered world of Mumbai and India, with honest people like Chopra, Poppy and Irfan, dishonest people like Bulbul Kanodia, the characters disillusioned with everything who pop up and try to stamp down the kindness, or those who are simply caught in the cross-fire like Chopra’s friend, Garewal. Amidst the deception, and helping those who have been wronged like Garewal, blamed for things they never did, Chopra and Ganesha’s relationship – man and elephant – never falters. They are loyal to each other. In a world where good and evil are not always defined, where money talks and honesty may not be valued by many of the characters Chopra encounters, Chopra and Ganesha, and Poppy show that honesty and bravery, with perhaps a little trickery when necessary, can win the day and solve the most pressing cases for the Baby Ganesh Investigation Agency.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

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Title: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (Book One of the Baby Ganesh Agency Series)

Author: Vaseem Khan

Genre: Crime Fiction

Publisher: Mullholland Books/Hodder

Published: 11th August, 2015 (first edition), 23rd February 2016 (B-Format)

Format: paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Mumbai, murder and a baby elephant combine in a charming, joyful mystery for fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Harold Fry.

 

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.

 

The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved.

 

And the second is a baby elephant.

 

As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought.

 

And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs…

 

~*~

Inspector Ashwin Chopra has spent his whole life as a police officer on the streets of Mumbai. He is forced into early retirement, on the same day a case that nobody wants to solve tumbles onto his desk. When he arrives home, he is greeted with a baby elephant, willed to him by his Uncle Bansi. Chopra at first is at a loss, as he studies elephants and starts to care for the elephant, whilst solving the murder nobody wanted to touch. As Chopra and his baby elephant, christened Ganesha, investigate the murder, they are pulled into a dark underworld of Mumbai that heralds danger and secrets that many have worked to keep hidden from Chopra, one of the most respectable Inspectors on the local police force. Ganesha soon proves what he can do, and lives up to the letter from Uncle Bansi about him, and the fact that he is no ordinary elephant.

 

It was the baby elephant image and the intriguing title that drew me to this book, and reading the blurb on the back, I knew I had to read it. Vaseem Khan has created an India that is beautiful and dangerous, that acknowledges the good and the bad, and where each character has layers. Chopra is a straight-laced officer, abiding by the law, and quite shocked when he receives Ganesha. His growth across the novel sets up nicely for the second novel. While Chopra is preoccupied with his private investigations with the aid of Inspector Rangwalla, and of course, Ganesha, his wife, Poppy, is trying to help family, and formulating a plan to help them, fighting Mrs Subramanium about Ganesha and other issues that impact their complex. Through these characters, their lives and the events that occur and intersect throughout the novel, Vaseem Khan explores views on class and the individual, and certain expectations, and the divide between modern India and a more traditional India – he is creating a world where the two intersect magnificently and where each tries to find a compromise with the other to make it work. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra has a lovely balance of light heartedness, humour and shadows that threaten the characters, and Vaseem Khan carries off the balance in a similar way to Alexander McCall-Smith and Precious Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Like Precious and Mma Makutsi, Chopra is tasked to investigate missing husbands or children, or financial affairs, or to look at a case from an angle the police may not have thought of. Reading this book was a joy, Ganesha’s love of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate was adorable – as Bansi’s letter said: he is no ordinary elephant. A great read for fans of Alexander McCall-Smith, cosy crime or just a good book.