Cocaine Blues – Kerry Greenwood
McPhee Gribble, 1989
I was aware of these books before but it wasn’t until the television series aired on the ABC earlier this year that I realised they might be something I’d like. Generally I avoid murder mysteries on the principle that however brilliant the detection, there still has to be a murder, and it is generally grisly. This book, however, is markedly different from the episode based upon it. Don’t expect a straightforward whodunnit opening with a murder. This is the world of Miss Phryne Fisher, exuberantly unconventional 1920s heiress, and she couldn’t be straightforward if she tried.
Bored with aristocratic life in Britain, Phryne packs her considerable wardrobe and discreet lady’s handgun and heads off for her childhood home of Melbourne to do some digging on a friend’s troubled daughter. She is soon way out of her depth in the local cocaine scene, but that’s not going to stop her. Fuelled on sex, cigarettes and cocktails, she’s out to take on the mysterious King of Snow and maybe prevent a couple of untimely deaths along the way. Or, if need be, cause them.
Fans of the TV series will recognise soon-to-be recurring characters, including Phryne’s long-suffering maid Dot and communist cab drivers Cec and Bert. There is a light-hearted wit to this book but it isn’t afraid to get gritty, with a storyline that includes abortion and attempted rape. Phryne has been likened to a female James Bond and she has a similar level of skill at pretty much everything she tries her hand at, which stopped me from totally engaging with her as a character – the focus devoted to her clothes also went over the top for my taste, but as a whole I enjoyed the book and will be looking for Flying Too High, the next in the series.