The Green Mill Murder by Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher #5)

Title: The Green Mill Murder

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: February 2005

Format: Paperback

Pages: 276

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: Phryne Fisher’s fifth mystery intrigues with excitement, glamour, murder, dance halls and blackmail.

Dancing divinely through the murder and mayhem of her fifth adventure, the elegant Phryne Fisher remains unflappable.

Gorgeous in her sparkling lobelia-coloured georgette dress, delighted by her dancing skill, pleased with her partner and warmed by the admiring regard of the banjo player, Miss Phryne Fisher had thought of tonight as a promising evening at the hottest dancehall in town, the Green Mill.

But that was before death broke in. In jazz-mad 1920s Melbourne, Phryne finds there are hidden perils in dancing the night away like murder, blackmail and young men who vanish.

Phryne Fisher’s fifth adventure leads to smoke-filled clubs, a dashingly handsome band leader, some fancy flying indeed across the Australian Alps and a most unexpected tryst with a gentle stranger.

Independent, wealthy, spirited and possessed of an uninhibited style that makes every one move out of her way and stand gawking a full five minutes after she walks by Phryne Fisher is a woman who gets what she wants and has the good sense to enjoy every minute of it!’ Davina Bartlett, Geelong Times

~*~

In her fifth adventure, Phryne finds herself dancing her feet away at a dance marathon where the prize on offer, a car, would ensure a wonderful future for the winner. A night of what began as frivolous dancing, ends in murder, and Phryne is drawn into the case yet again, assisting Detective Inspector Jack Robinson as she endeavours to uncover the murderer, and another case, involving a returned serviceman, whose noted absence has caused quite some alarm in the family. Following the trail of the case to help a young couple caught up in the confusion, and taking on more work to track down the serviceman, Phryne’s adventures yet again see her tango with death and danger, all whilst maintaining the elegance and with the same gusto and exuberance that strikes fear into the heart of her maid, Dot. Phryne must use all of her talents to solve this one, and ensure the best outcome for all.

The late 1920s, with the world on the brink of The Great Depression, half a decade away from Hitler rising to power in Germany, and a decade out from what would become The Second World War, Phryne’s world is one of uncertainty for some, a generation scarred and tainted by a war that took thousands of lives, eloquently shows the divide between classes at the time, and drops hints at the political situation of the time – where Communism was feared, and where women like Phryne were a mystery, a shock and an interest to many. In each story, Kerry Greenwood has shown this world as it was – not in an idealised way, but in a way that touches on the discomfort felt during these times in an accessible way to a modern audience. Phryne’s cases often involve everyday people, unlike the Rowland Sinclair series, which is steeped in even more history and politics, as well as murder during the 1930s, but this works for the series, and each story can be read in isolation or consecutively from one through to twenty. It is a delightful series, and the fifth novel is no exception, taking Phryne to greater heights as she flies over the Australian Alps to solve a case.

Here, she spends time with the missing serviceman, and encounters a wombat with a one track mind when it comes to potatoes – a fact that might just come in handy later. Stuck in the wilderness of the Alps, Phryne must band together with Vic, the ex-serviceman to survive and arrive home in one piece to hear about Dot’s outing to a ball with her beau, Constable Hugh Collins.

In true Phryne style, she tackles brothers pushed to the brink by mothers, mothers who are good at putting on a show to manipulate people, and a host of other characters from the grateful and understanding to the harried and snarky, whose attitudes do little to worry and distract Phryne, whose ability to adjust her behaviour and speech patterns from class to class, and city to country, makes her somewhat of a chameleon. Phryne gets better and somewhat naughtier with each book, and she always finds herself in the wrong place at the right time, much to the horror of her maid and most of the police force, apart from Jack, who seems quite taken with her guts and bravery, and willingness to help out. Where the police often cannot got, Phryne does, and she certainly helps them solve the cases in each book, and ensures the best outcome possible.

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The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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Title: The Pearl Thief

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Genre: Children’s/YA Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st July, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 408

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: From the internationally acclaimed bestselling author of Code Name Verity comes a stunning new story of pearls, love and murder – a mystery with all the suspense of an Agatha Christie and the intrigue of Downton Abbey.

Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her family’s ancestral home in Perthshire for one last summer. It is not an idyllic return to childhood. Her grandfather’s death has forced the sale of the house and estate and this will be a summer of goodbyes. Not least to the McEwen family – Highland travellers who have been part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember – loved by the family, loathed by the authorities. Tensions are already high when a respected London archivist goes missing, presumed murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on the McEwens but Julie knows not one of them would do such a thing and is determined to prove everyone wrong. And then she notices the family’s treasure trove of pearls is missing.

This beautiful and evocative novel is the story of the irrepressible and unforgettable Julie, set in the year before the Second World War and the events of Code Name Verity. It is also a powerful portrayal of a community under pressure and one girl’s determination for justice.

~*~

The Pearl Thief is set in England in 1938, in the year that preceded the incoming storm of World War Two, preceding Hitler’s march across Europe, and it’s characters show no indication that they are aware of the impending threat to their lives. Julie is on her way home from boarding school – a final summer at her family’s ancestral home before it becomes a school On her way hoe, Julie is attacked, and a well known archivist from London goes missing, presumed dead. And it is the McEwen family, a family of Travellers, who become caught up in the mystery after taking care of Julie and getting her to hospital. When Julie notices the family pearls have gone missing, she tries to piece together the night she was attacked, and slowly, a mystery unfolds. Whilst the investigation surges on, even with a lack of evidence, the suspicious eye is cast over the McEwens, despite Julie’s protestations that they could not have done it, questioning the reasoning everyone has. Amidst all this, the treasure trove of Murray pearls has gone missing, and Julie is determined to find it, and together with her brother, Jamie, and the McEwens, she strives to solve the theft – and a murder, with results that are as surprising as the rest of the novel.

For Julie, it is a final childhood summer, where she can relive the good memories and make some new ones, but at the same time, new discoveries about her mother and the McEwens, and her interactions with Ellen and her brother, have Julie questioning what she knows about herself and her feelings, but the world that she has known in comparison to Ellen’s world, and what they learn from each other through their new-found friendship. Like any friends, they had their disagreements on things and it took them a while to see that what something meant to Ellen, meant something different to Julie and vice versa, encapsulating the formation of an unexpected friendship between the two girls.

There are moments when the novel does not dwell on the mystery of the missing pearls and murder of the archivist, but rather, on the formation of the relationships between Julie and the Travellers, and how this begins to affect her and how she sees herself and the world. This character development ensures a solid grounding for the story, and even though the mystery was intriguing, it was nice to see the realistic approach that didn’t involve the obsessive nature and drive to solve the mystery, but rather, a nice balance between getting the characters and plot right to get from beginning to end, and allowing the characters to overcome hurdles and distractions, but ultimately, solving a mystery that had a very unexpected outcome, and an enjoyable journey to get there as a reader.

The Pearl Thief is marketed towards the children’s and Young Adult market, but I still enjoyed it and the setting that seemed to sing from every page – the Scottish landscape, and the speech of the characters cemented the time and place effectively. A great novel for anyone who likes mysteries, adventure and intriguing characters.

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Murder On The Ballarat Train (Phryne Fisher #3) by Kerry Greenwood

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Title: Murder on the Ballarat Train

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: March 2005

Format: Paperback

Pages: 180

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: In Phryne’s third adventure, Phryne is off to Ballarat for a week of fabulousness, but the sedate journey by train turns out to be far from the restful trip she was planning.

For the elegant Phryne Fisher, travelling sedately is not at all what it seems.

‘Lie still, Dot dear, we’ve had a strange experience.’ But neither the resourceful Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher nor her loyal maid, Dot Williams, are strangers to odd events.

When the glamorous Phryne Fisher, accompanied by Dot, decides to leave her delightfully fast, red Hispano-Suiza at home and travel to the country in the train, the last thing she expects is to have to use her trusty Beretta .32 to save their lives.

What was planned as a restful country sojourn turns into the stuff of nightmares: a young girl who can’t remember anything, rumours of vile white slavery and the body of an old woman missing her emerald rings. And Phryne is at the centre, working through the clues to arrive at the incredible truth before another murder is committed.

Fortunately, Phryne can still find a little time for a discreet dalliance and the delicious diversion of that rowing team of young men.

~*~

aww2017-badgeJourneying to Ballarat on the train with Dot, Phryne is expecting a week of elegance and a break from the bustle of the city. However, Miss Fisher finds herself midst a murder case, a young girl whose memory has disappeared and rumours of white slavery occurring in Melbourne. Returning back to Melbourne with Dot, the young girl, Jane, and the daughter of the murder victim, Phryne sets herself the task of finding out who killed the old woman, and where Jane comes from so she can help her, and engaging in a dalliance with a rowing team from the local university, culminating in events that Phryne had not thought possible.

As always, Phryne engages the Communist drivers, Bert and Cec to help her look into the less savoury aspects, people and locations that are linked to Jane in order to help her, and eventually, another young girl called Ruth. Little does Phryne know that somehow the rowing team and the two cases she picked up on the train are to become linked, and the killer and their secrets revealed.

Kerry Greenwood has succeeded again in creating a female character who simultaneously fits in with the time period she lives in yet also flouts all socially acceptable behaviour for a woman of her standing. She allows the male police to act when necessary, but assists them and uses her feminine wiles to ensnare Detective-Inspector Robinson into helping her, which he does, gladly, and in awe of her.

Set in the late 1920s, during the early stages of the Great Depression that gripped the world during the 1930s, and up to the Second World War, Kerry Greenwood at times hints at moments of Australian history that are significant, though these moments are a bit more prevalent in Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair series, set roughly during the same time, and with a character who is also an amateur detective and gives the police he deals with a run for their money.

A series of historical fiction crime books with a female character who is strong and feminine in equal measures, and whose escapades shock the prim and proper, and traditional echelons of society in a young Australia, merely ten years fresh from a world war and almost three decades old, Kerry Greenwood has captured an essence of the Australian character in a unique way. I am enjoying this series, and look forward to reading more, and hopefully getting through them all this year.

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See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

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Title: See What I Have Done

Author: Sarah Schmidt

Genre: Crime Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th March, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 328

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A deeply atmospheric novel by a startling new Aussie talent; an incredibly unique look inside the mind of Lizzie Borden, famously accused of murdering her father and stepmother in 1892.

‘Eerie and compelling, Sarah Schmidt breathes such life into the terrible, twisted tale of Lizzie Borden and her family, she makes it impossible to look away.’ – Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

‘He was still bleeding. I yelled, “Someone’s killed Father.” I breathed in kerosene air, licked the thickness from my teeth. The clock on the mantel ticked ticked. I looked at Father, the way hands clutched to thighs, the way the little gold ring on his pinky finger sat like a sun. I gave him that ring for his birthday when I no longer wanted it. “Daddy,” I had said. “I’m giving this to you because I love you.” He had smiled and kissed my forehead.

A long time ago now.’

On 4 August 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. During the inquest into the deaths, Lizzie Borden was arrested and charged with the murder of her father and her stepmother.

Through the eyes of Lizzie’s sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, the enigmatic stranger Benjamin and the beguiling Lizzie herself, we return to what happened that day in Fall River.

Lizzie Borden took an axe. Or did she?

~*~

aww2017-badgeSee What I Have Done brings the mystery of Fall River, and the deaths of Andrew and Abby Borden to life. Living together in the Second Street house with Lizzie, the youngest daughter, and the maid Bridget. Emma has since moved out, and a fourth narrator to this tale, Benjamin, who has links to Uncle John, the first Mrs Borden’s brother (Emma and Lizzie’s biological mother), arrives the day before the murders, on the 3rd of August 1892. The next day, Andrew and Abby were dead. And this is where See What I Have Done begins, going between the perspectives of Lizzie, Emma, Benjamin and Bridget on the day of the murder and the day before, and then the days and weeks following, where one character recounts the trial as they recall it, and the events that lead to the conclusion of the case, and leaving a murderer to go free, and live out their lives.

What Sarah Schmidt does in See What I Have Done through the other three perspectives is to present alternative suspects to Lizzie. Throughout the book, each character’s motives are shown through memories and flashbacks as they navigate the day before, the day of and the days after the murders, hinting that it really could have been anybody who had been in the house, and interrogates the life that Lizzie may have lived with her father and stepmother. The loss of her pigeons is what I felt finally made Lizzie lose herself, and may have led to why she murdered her parents.

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A mixture of historical fiction, literary fiction and crime fiction, See What I Have Done evokes an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue and transports the reader to the late nineteenth century in America, and into a family where secrets are kept, and tensions felt deeply by all. Because the novel is told in first person, the reader gains insight into the minds of Lizzie, Emma, Benjamin and Bridget, and we see in Lizzie and through Bridget and Emma’s perceptions of her a woman who is childlike, who perhaps has not let herself mature, or who hasn’t been allowed to be mature – this is part of the mystery, why Lizzie became who she was. Perhaps losing her mother at a young age contributed, perhaps her sister’s protection became a factor. Whatever the reason, Lizzie is shown as someone who needs protection and understanding, to whom some things might not make sense.

Out of all the narrators, Emma was the only one who was not a suspect, whereas the others had motives and could be seen as unreliable narrators – in presenting them as so – where we only see their perspective and understanding, and these narrators hide things from everyone – Sarah Schmidt has crafted a novel that presents a puzzle to the reader. It is successful in that it made me question what is known about the case, what is known from popular culture and other stories. In suggesting there may have been other suspects, another killer, Schmidt paints Lizzie the killer as an ambiguous one at times, but at others, having people question her innocence.

A novel of mystery, intrigue and literary quality, See What I Have Done sets up a story inspired by events that are yet to be solved, and gives Lizzie, Emma, their maid, Bridget and the stranger, Benjamin, a voice, and motives to kill, apart from Emma. It is a story that can stay with you long after finishing it. It is engrossing, and authentic. Reading it, I could clearly see the nineteenth century setting, hear the way they may have spoken and felt immersed in their daily life. And not only see and hear, but smell, taste and feel. It is an astounding debut novel and one that I do want to revisit, but maybe I’ll let Lizzie rest for now.

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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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Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock

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Title: Murder in Midwinter

Author: Fleur Hitchcock

Genre: Fiction/Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Nosy Crow

Published: 23rd November, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 254

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: When Maya takes a photo from the top of a bus, she has no idea of the trouble it will bring. The bright shop window is gorgeous but the couple arguing in front of it look as though they want to kill each other. And when the flash goes off, they look as though they want to kill her too…

Then a body turns up. The police suggest Maya should go away for a while – somewhere remote, somewhere safe. Her aunt’s farm in the Welsh mountains is a perfect place to hide, and soon it’s snowing hard enough to cut them off completely. No one can get in and n one can get out. But does that mean there’s nothing to fear? 

~*~

A murder mystery for children ages nine and up, Murder in Midwinter introduces future fans of crime fiction and the possible future authors within this genre to a world of solving crimes. As it is aimed at children aged nine and older, there is no blood and gore, thus it fits into the cozy crime genre, like the works of Agatha Christie, Vaseem Khan, Alexander McCall-Smith and the recent Anthony Horowitz novel, Magpie Murders. Through Maya’s eyes, the reader experiences the crime, and the fear of having criminals after them, and not knowing what to do. Using their own initiative though, Maya and her cousin will find a way to get through the next few days and a way to help the police solve the crime.

Maya’ world is turned upside down when she sees the body pulled from the Thames and her sister doesn’t show up for a school concert. With the identifying streak of white in her black hair, Maya is going to be easy to find. She is sent away after her sister is found, but the fear is still there. Hours, and a long distance away from her family, Maya feels isolated in Wales, and having to deal with a cousin who hates her, and a sense of isolation from being trapped inside. When the huge snowstorms come and block people in the village and farm, and block anyone form using the roads, Maya feels a false sense of security, and hopes that this means that everything will be over soon and she can go back home.

A delightful and quick read, Maya’s adventure in crime solving for children is a great way to introduce eager readers to the genre. In the midst of a charming winter and Christmas setting, the reader and characters are thrown into a fast paced plot that takes exciting twists and turns to reach the resolution and revelations at the end of the novel. It is also a journey of finding new friends an family coming together. A story where Maya stands alone when she can abut receives help when she needs to – a wonderful heroine for young girls to identify with. Written from her point of view, it is much more accessible for the age group than other crime novels, depending on the individual reading level.

Give the Devil His Due by Sulari Gentill.

rowly-7Title: Give The Devil His Due (Rowland Sinclair #7)
Author: Sulari Gentill
Publisher: Pantera Press
Category: Historical Fiction/Crime
Pages: 384
Available formats: Print and ebook
Publication Date: 1/11/15
RRP: AU$29.99
Synopsis: The 7th book in the award-winning Australian historical crime fiction Rowland Sinclair Mystery Series
When Rowland Sinclair is invited to take his yellow Mercedes onto the Maroubra Speedway, renamed the Killer Track for the lives it has claimed, he agrees without caution or reserve.

But then people start to die.

The body of a journalist covering the race is found in a House of Horrors, an English blueblood with Blackshirt affiliations is killed on the race track. and it seems that someone has Rowland in their sights.

A strange young reporter preoccupied with black magic, a mysterious vagabond, an up-and-coming actor by the name of Flynn, and ruthless bookmakers all add mayhem to the mix.

With danger presenting at every turn, and the brakes long since disengaged, Rowland Sinclair hurtles towards disaster with an artist, a poet and brazen sculptress along for the ride.

~*~

Our latest adventure with Rowland picks up soon after the events of A Murder Unmentioned, which unravelled the mystery of the death of Henry Sinclair, Rowly’s father. Give The Devil His Due has Rowly preparing for the charity race at the Killer Track, the Maroubra Speedway. At the same time, he is still haunted by what he saw and went through in Germany, in Paving the New Road. The journey to the race and eventual exhibition of his paintings of Nazi Germany is fraught with disaster. First, Rowly must deal with Crispin White, a journalist determined to make more of Rowly’s association with Milt, the Communist, his father’s death, and his time in Germany, rather than report on the race.
Once White’s body is found at Magdalene’s House of the Macabre, Rowly and his friends are plunged into a world of black magic, where they encounter Rosaleen Norton, the future Witch of King’s Cross, whose stories about the macabre are far more interesting to her than her take over of the article on Rowly and his racing team, which includes Errol Flynn. With each step, Rowly and his crew find themselves in more danger, leading up to a disastrous event that had my heart racing as I read it.
One of my favourite things about this and the other Rowland Sinclair books, is the way Sulari weaves history and historical figures through the narrative, and their interaction with Rowland. Just like the other books, Give The Devil His Due does not fail to deliver on mystery, history and laughs. Yet it is the change in Rowland since book four that has had a significant impact on the narrative – his feelings of helplessness at not being able to stop what happened in Germany, and at not being able to make people see what is going on there are powerful. The continuation of them in book seven hint at what is to come, and hint at what we, as the readers, know happens in the lead up to World War Two, and the realisation of the truth.
When one of Rowly’s teammates for the race is killed in a freak accident during a training session, threats come thick and fast to Rowly from the victim’s sister, and the discovery of the word “Eternity” written throughout Sydney, and an encounter with Arthur Stace, lead to a kidnapping, and the series of events that unravels the true killer, it is Rowly and his friends, together with Detective Delaney, who unmask them.
Give the Devil His Due was a thoroughly enjoyable installment of the Rowland Sinclair series, and one that had me on edge at certain moments, just as any good Rowly story does.