This is number nineteen in a series of twenty mysteries, but it is probably possible to read it as a standalone novel, once the basics have been grasped. Fans of the tv series “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” will quickly pick up the context of the story. Miss Phryne is a wealthy woman living an independent life in Melbourne, Australia in 1929. She has a taste for discovering the truth about people and solving mysteries, whatever the danger and cost. She has many contacts in the high and low life of the city, as well as the medical and legal authorities, and exploits them with wit and intelligence as well as generosity.
This particular novel in the series is a strong story. There are at least three mysteries to be solved which quickly emerge as Phryne organises the rescue of a determined girl reporter, who subsequently disappears. Three heavily pregnant girls also go missing, and in trying to track them down Phryne discovers abuse and domestic violence, which she tries to ensure is not continued. Girls are also disappearing in what seems to be a slavery ring, and this must be stopped. Phryne’s own resistance to organised religion, in contrast to her devout assistant, Dot, is raised when she investigates the treatment of pregnant unmarried girls by a local convent. All this activity is overseen by the friendly policeman, Jack Robinson, and Phryne’s unique group of friends and allies.
To a certain extent the reader needs to suspend disbelief to enjoy this book, as the main characters do amazing things. Like James Bond, with whom Phryne has been compared in her exploits, she can summon up unusual abilities and disguises at will, and the reader knows that she at least will always survive. That is not to suggest that the writing is lightweight or less than consistent, as Greenwood’s writing is stylish and full of humour. Her characters are attractive in the main, and her culprits and villains suitably loathsome. As in all her novels, her research is impeccable, and the back stories of each character are understood. Greenwood also takes great delight in describing the clothes of many characters, especially her heroine’s, and the reader is left in little doubt that Phryne’s attraction to all is easily explained. I was a little surprised that the entire household become so involved in the investigations, but these are an unlikely group which has emerged over the series of novels.
This is a most enjoyable book and is obviously very late in the series. It could be read on its own but would be more appreciated if some or all of the earlier books had been read before this one. I have read them out of order as I borrowed or bought them, and they are easily followed. I find it a great alternative to heavier literary fare, and would recommend it as a historical adventure.