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

Phryne 3.jpg

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.

Booktopia

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

see what i have done.jpg

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.

images

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.

Booktopia

Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery by Kerry Greenwood

cocaine blues.jpg

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.

Angus & Robertson Bookworld – 10% off Gift Cards – Live Now

Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock

murder in midwinter.jpg

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.

A Murder Unmentioned by Sulari Gentill

rowly-6Book Title: A Murder Unmentioned (Rowland Sinclair, #6)

Author: Sulari Gentill

Publisher: Pantera Press

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Release Date: November 1st, 2014

Book Synopsis: The black sheep of a wealthy grazier dynasty, gentleman artist Rowland Sinclair often takes matters into his own hands. When the matter is murder, there are consequences.

For nearly fourteen years, Rowland has tried to forget, but now the past has returned.

A newly-discovered gun casts light on a family secret long kept… a murder the Sinclairs would prefer stayed unsolved.

As old wounds tear open, the dogged loyalty of Rowland’s inappropriate companions is all that stands between him and the consequences of a brutal murder… one he simply failed to mention.

~*~

Once again, Rowland Sinclair did not fail to hold my attention, all other books being set aside as the mystery of who killed Henry Sinclair, Rowland’s father, when our hero was just a teenager. The mystery arises when Edna Walling, a gardener engaged by Wilfred’s wife Kate, to landscape the surrounds of Oaklea. The gun used in the murder of Henry Sinclair is discovered, prompting a cousin, Arthur Sinclair, and a former employee, Charlie Hayden, to come out to Yass to influence the investigation in their favour.

Lucy Bennett is involved again, adamant that she will marry Rowland, even though her father has determined he is inappropriate for her. I find Lucy’s stubborn determination that Rowland has indeed professed his adoration and love for her, and extending from that, that he has somehow proposed to her in his many attempts to gently discourage her throughout the series both funny and, in terms of her character, annoying. Lucy’s involvement in this book, however, is more significant. Having failed at nabbing Rowly, she fixes her sights on Arthur Sinclair, and the plot thickens. Soon, another murder has the police set their sights on Rowland, and the family becomes embroiled in danger and mystery to unravel what really happened on the night Rowland and Wilfred’s father died.

Always by his side, Rowly’s companions, Edna, Milt and Clyde are ready to help discover the truth. Their loyalty is recognised by Wilfred in this book, and there is a major turning point in the relationship between the brothers. We finally find out what happened to Rowland in his father’s study and library as a child. We see a gentler side to Wilfred as he does everything he can to help his brother but also his brother’s friends. I found myself liking Wilfred very much in the final pages, and his defence of his brother and family.

Sulari Gentill has captured the essence of the period in all six books, set against the backdrop of the Depression, and now, the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, to which Rowly and his friends were witness to in Paving the New Road. The line up of likely suspects in this book works very effectively when the true killer is revealed, and the mystery, somewhat, at least amongst brothers and friends, solved. This added layer of intrigue and where people were and who they were with at the time of the murder just adds yet another aspect to the book that kept me reading.

I cannot say which Rowland Sinclair book thus far is my favourite – they are all wonderful and I am sad that I now have to wait until later this year for book seven. Though they are quick reads, they are enjoyable and they do take me away from other reading – that I can finish whilst waiting for my next sojourn with Rowly.

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed by Sulari Gentill

rowly-5

Author: Sulari Gentill

Publisher: Pantera Press

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Release Date: November 1st, 2013

Book Synopsis: After narrowly escaping Nazi terror, Rowland Sinclair and his companions land in London, believing they are safe.

But they are wrong.

A bizarre murder plunges the hapless Australians into a queer world of British aristocracy, Fascist Blackshirts, illicit love, scandal and spies.

A world where gentlemen are not always what they are dressed up to be.

~*~

I was delighted to be able to leap headfirst into another adventure with Rowland. Edna, Clyde and Milt in London, along with his brother, Wilfred, sister-in-law, Kate and nephews, Ewan and Ernest. Staying at Claridge’s after escaping Fascist Germany, Rowly and his friends are soon privy to the murder of a fellow guest, Lord Pierrepont is murdered, and found in stockings and a women’s nightie – in rather scandalous circumstances that lead to people related to him and the police trying to cover things up. Sulari does a fabulous job of revealing clues to the reader just as the characters find them. The journey to Madame Tussaud’s in London is seemingly innocent enough – Rowly and his friends are in the company of his nephew, Ernest. But the discovery here of a wax head of Pierrepont, and the sculptor hoisting it off onto them to deliver it to Euphemia Thistlethwaite leads the reader into a series of humour-filled interactions with the head in a hat box, and then resting on a desk in the suite Rowland and his friends are staying in.

My favourite line in relation to the head came towards the end of the novel, after a second failed attempt to return it to Lord Harcourt and the family: “Rowland nodded. He had been preoccupied and now he’d lost Pierrepont’s head.” It had the feeling or something morbid yet as the head was wax, quite amusing. The aftermath of Rowly losing the head is equally enjoyable to read and experience, in particular, Wilfred’s reaction to the whole situation of why they had a wax head of a dead man in their rooms.

Though Wilfred throughout the novels is disapproving of Rowly’s friends and maybe a little hard on him, he does not just let anyone get away with trying to harm his family. I found this coming through much more since Paving the New Road, following Rowly’s encounters with the Nazi Stormtroopers. The continuity and growth that readers get to experience with this relationship makes the novels well worth the read.

Sulari has again seamlessly and delightfully incorporated real-world figures such as Winston Churchill, H.G. Wells and Stanley Melbourne Bruce into the narrative, as figures for Rowland and his comrades to interact with. For me as a reader, this brings even more authenticity to the world she is creating and meandering in. I hope we get to see more of their reactions to what is going on in Germany and the outcomes of this.

The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries are one of my favourite crime series, because they also incorporate real world history and figures. It feels genuine because of these characteristics, and I am looking forward to seeing what is in store for Rowly in the future.