Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

I love me a good crime series and I can see myself getting into the Phryne Fisher mysteries. It ticks all the boxes I like in my crime series and I am a little excited that it’s set in 1930s Australia because these things are always either American or British.

The first novel in any series is really any author’s first and only shot to make an impression and it can be a little tricky because not only do you need to get a story out but you also need to establish your characters in a way that makes them believable but interesting. Luckily, Greenwood prefers the ‘show, not tell’ methodology so it makes for great reading, for example, the classic archetypes of the plucky, loyal sidekick is given to Phryne in one swift scene of amusing retaliation.

Speaking of the titular detective, Phryne is a clear-headed, gutsy aristocratic lady, who is quick on her feet, and has expensive tastes and a sexual appetite common in fictional male private detectives. Here is a scene between Phryne and two taxi drivers, Bert and Cec showing that Phryne has the hard nature required in being a private detective:

‘Oh, Bert, it’s about time you arrived, I’ve been waiting for hours. My friend has fainted. Help me get her into the car, and take us to the Windsor. I’ll give you ten pounds.’

‘Twelve,’ bargained Bert, dragging the car back on its haunches and flinging open the door.

‘Ten – that’s all I’ve got on me.’

‘Eleven,’ offered Bert, gathering up Sasha and loading him into the back seat. Phryne followed, and the silent Cec climbed in. Bert started the cab with a certain difficulty, and said, ‘What about twenty not to tell your Dad what you’ve been doing?’

Phryne produced the little gun and touched the back of his neck with the cold barrel.

‘How about nothing at all? I thought we were mates,’ she suggested silkily. Her patience with this pair of opportunists was wearing thin. Ten pounds would buy this cab, and have enough change for a packet of smokes and a glass of beer.

In essence, it has all the hallmarks of a private detective series but unlike the depressing endings synonymous with Chandler, the book ends on a happy note with everything tied up nicely. There doesn’t appear to be a regularly occurring arch-enemy which should keep the series refreshing as it gives Phryne the opportunity to encounter different scenarios and gives Greenwood greater writing flexibility. Greenwood also doesn’t rely on the gruesome nature of crimes or cheap suspense writing to keep readers interested but rather good old-fashioned well-written prose and well-paced timing. There’s enough things going on to keep Phryne and the readers occupied.

I can also see the development of certain trademark writing styles, for example, the beautiful descriptions of the 1930s clothes, the intimate knowledge of Melbourne, the unashamedly erotic descriptions of Phryne’s sexual encounters, and her no-holds-barred spending. I hope in later novels these aspects are still kept because for me, these are the differentiating points.

I liked it. I know I’m a bit late to the party with it being written in 1989 but I’m excited that I can get into another reliable series, ala McCall’s ‘No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency’. I’m determined to read this in the order it was written in so I’ll resist the temptation to buy just any copy I see.



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