Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Review - Kerry Greenwood's Cocaine Blues

Cocaine Blues (Phyrne Fisher Book 1) by Kerry Greenwood
Published by: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: 1989
Format: Hardcover, 175 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Phryne Fisher is a little bored in England. One more tedious yet perfectly prepared dinner party and she might lose it. Fast cars, aeroplanes, dancing lessons by gigolos only go so far as to fill the void. The night Bobby tried to make off with the Ambassador's wife's jewels, which Phryne quickly stopped, she is given an interesting alternative to her current life. The Colonel is worried about his daughter Lydia. Lydia has taken herself with her new husband off to Australia and her parents are convinced something is wrong. Phryne has always played with the idea that one day she would return to Australia. Having been raised out of the gutter and spirited away to wealth in England was well and good, but Australia is still her true home. She agrees to help the Colonel, if she is allowed to do it her way, with her money, and in her own time.

On the way to Melbourne, she befriends a female Scotch doctor, Dr MacMillan, and once she disembarks, Phryne picks up associates and friends left and right like they are strays. From the cab drivers, Bert and Cec, to her new maid Dot, who she stopped from committing a heinous crime, to the luscious Russian dancer Sasha, they soon all become her confidantes. Phyrne plans on approaching Lydia obliquely and naturally in a social setting so that she will never guess that Phyrne was sent by Lydia's parents. To do this Phyrne starts to mingle in society, a society she notices that has several flaws. One being a rather robust trade in cocaine, the other being an abortionist who rapes his patients. Seeing as by taking the Colonel's job she has ostensibly set herself up as a detective, Phryne figures she might as well solve these cases too. She doesn't expect to be shot at, set up, sapphically seduced, detained, and threatened. At least this is far more interesting then England.

Back in 2011 someone recommended the Phryne Fisher books to me. I really can't for the life of me remember who it was, but I have a feeling that it was because of my love of Daisy Dalyrymple and Amelia Peabody and my having just read The Forgotten Garden by fellow Aussie writer, Kate Morton, that this mysterious someone said "read this now." I obligingly bought Cocaine Blues and then promptly forgot to read it as it worked it's way into the morass of my reading pile. About a year after that forgotten purchase I was down in Illinois for a book signing with Lauren Willig and Tasha Alexander and afterwards I headed out to the local bookstore, because that's what I do. If I have an event to go to, I immediately find all the bookstores in the vicinity and try to visit as many as possible. This happened to be a Half Price Books Store. I hadn't been to this branch in, oh, at least a year, which is a long time for me. In the mystery section there was a large display of about eight of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher books. I immediately remembered that I had been recommended to read Kerry Greenwood and promptly bought all of them, not realizing I was re-buying Cocaine Blues, but on a side note, a hardcover edition when I only had a paperback, so score. This was one of those days I remember as a windfall bookstore day of awesomeness! Who would sell these books? Oh, what do I care, their lose is my gain.

Flash forward yet another year and I haven't started reading them yet. Let's be honest, I have so many books I shouldn't be allowed to buy anymore and just be forced to read what I own... I probably would never have to buy another book, want, yes, need, no... ok, yes, need, yes, I have an addiction, I need them! Anyway, back to my story. So anyway, I'm a huge fan of Acorn Media, they release all the best British shows on DVD, I mean seriously, look at all the best releases and they are from Acorn. Anyway, in their "new and exclusive" section this past January they had a new series that had aired in 2012 called Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. As it so happened I was reading the description and I realized that this show was based on all those lovely Kerry Greenwood books I had languishing. I rarely buy the DVDs direct from Acorn, usually waiting the extra months till they are no longer "exclusive" and are therefore about $20-40 cheaper, but it being my mom's birthday (handy right?) I figured I'd splurge and get her the DVD set and therefore get to watch the show. Now I rarely, and I mean rarely, will watch a show before reading the book, but my mom insisted. I instantly fell in love with the show, and, I must say, the clothes. Therefore, going to pick up the first book I was a little hesitant. I mean, the show was fresh in my mind and now I was worried it would color the book! Thankfully all my fears were unjustified.

Cocaine Blues has the bare bones of what the show is, but it's so much more. And you know what? While I like the show, the book has more interest and depth... but then again, it's hard to fit a truly ripping mystery into a rather small time slot. So if your love of the series has been putting you off picking up the series, hesitate no longer! The book is sexy and a little bit raunchy and has a younger more vibrant feel. There is also a rawness to the book that makes it seem more real then other books set in the 20s. Instead of a golden aura of nostalgia that envelopes a lot of this type of fiction, there was an immediate realness. The description of what the evil abortionist, Butcher George did, made the horror that much more real then if it had been glossed over. Now of course I have too too vivid ideas of getting septicemia and loosing my womb... but by forging this connection to me and my insides, wow, it packed a punch. Of all the other books I've read this summer, I would say that Kerry Greenwood's style most reminds me of Dashiell Hammett and Red Harvest. There's a noir sensibility that I just adored. Add to that that Bert has a tendency to say "yair" which just might replace my love of saying "Hodor" and it's a series that I don't think will be languishing in my "to be read" pile much longer.


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