After returning from her summer holiday in Queenscliff, Phryne Fisher finds herself caught up in yet another mystery that will delight fans of the elegant cocktail-sipping sleuth. Pretty blond girls are going missing — including some who are pregnant and had been incarcerated in the Magdalen laundry in Abbotsford — adding a baffling twist to a complex series of events that takes the reader on a journey through inner-city slums, middle-class suburbia, gay clubs, high-end brothels and white slavery.
Phryne’s household join the quest to solve the puzzle, along with a cast of colourful characters that includes a few old friends. It is probably worth noting that if your only acquaintance with Phryne is via the recent television series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, you may be slightly bewildered by the differences in the book. Here Mr Butler has a wife, Phryne has an additional adopted daughter and there is no discernible unresolved sexual tension between our heroine and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson.
Kerry Greenwood has applied her customarily meticulous standards of research and provides an insight into the day-to-day minutiae of late 1920s life in Melbourne. But this is not a novel about the usual — it includes a murky mix of unrelentingly harsh convent conditions, an Arcadian feminist farming collective in Bacchus Marsh and a vigilante with a particularly pointy-edged means of obtaining justice. While the anti-racist and pro-feminist sensibilities sometimes feel slightly anachronistic, they can certainly be forgiven in the context of the story. This is, after all, an entertaining read rather than literary fiction — although it does not shirk at describing some very horrible truths about the utter powerlessness of women and girls’ lives in the past. Phryne is deeply affected by what she finds in the convent and it would be hard for any reader to remain dispassionate about the dire fate of the young women condemned to the laundry, in many cases for simply being the victims of sexual abuse.
Kerry Greenwood has written more than forty novels and six non-fiction works. Previous novels in the Phryne Fisher series include Cocaine Blues, Flying too High, Murder on the Ballarat Train, Death on the Victoria Dock, Blood and Circuses and The Green Mill Murder. The most recent offering was Dead Man’s Chest. The earlier Phryne Fisher novels have been adapted for television as Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and the first series was shown on the ABC earlier this year. She is also the author of the Corinna Chapman crime series (set in present day Melbourne), several books for young adults and the Delphic Women series. When she is not writing she is an advocate in Magistrates’ Court for the Legal Aid Commission. She lives in Footscray (in Melbourne’s west) along with her cats and a registered wizard. She is not married.
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Title: Unnatural Habits: A Phryne Fisher Mystery
Author: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: ALLEN & UNWIN
RRP: $22.99 AUD
Publication Date: October 2012