8. A book written in Australia/Oceania : Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery by Kerry Greenwood
List Progress: 15/30
Sometimes you just need to read about fun people doing exciting, fast-moving things. Pulp, beach reads, popcorn books, fluff, call them what you will, but they have a place in a literary diet and I have serious respect for those who write them well. Cocaine Blues*, the first installment of the Phryne Fisher Mysteries series by Kerry Greenwood, delivers a fun ride with characters that I enjoy hanging out with, but it is on the thin side when it comes to plot and actual mystery. But by no means did that make it less enjoyable to read.
*(The book was published in the United States in 1991 as Death By Misadventure, and in the United Kingdom in 2005 as Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates.)
Going in, I had already seen a few episode of “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”, the 2012-present television adaptation and was excited to see what the character of Phryne Fisher was like on the page. Set in 1920’s Melbourne, Phryne is a glamorous rebel who grew up in poverty but became a wealthy heiress as a young woman. This allows the book to indulge in a lot of fanciness, lavish descriptions of Phryne’s wardrobe and hotel rooms, while still having a worldly and savvy protagonist. Seeking out adventure, she returns from England to the city of her childhood and immediately gets caught up in a web of mystery…or more accurately, three mini-mysteries that are stapled together at the end. A back-alley abortionist who preys on his patients, a socialite being poisoned by her husband, and the flourishing cocaine trade all give Phryne plenty to work on and opportunities to meet lots of colorful and engaging characters. However, each of the mysteries themselves has a pretty clear-cut villain from the beginning and it is just a waiting game for the narrative to catch up.
A happy surprise for me was how much more of an edge the book has than the television show. Actual social commentary is brought in on the matter of abortion and the women getting abortions are not villainized, Phryne’s friend Dr. MacMillan is an outspoken and brash butch female doctor in a time period where this is in no way common place, and Phryne herself is unapologetic about her sexuality. The book’s 1989 release date shows a bit in how the character’s talk about homosexuality (Phryne contemplates a bit of “polite blackmail” against a suspected “sapphic”), but it is far from the worst thing I’ve read on the subject.
Cocaine Blues didn’t blow my mind or change my world, but I can see why so many people love the books and tv series. It’s fun in a way that I could see writing a lot of fanfic about, and the next time I feel like a beach read, I might go for the next book. (If anything, because I now ship Phryne and Bert.)
Would I Recommend It: Yes