Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood

This is the third instalment in the Phryne Fisher Series. I picked this one up second hand from Melbourne so it’s still showing the cover from the 90s.

I am a bit disappointed with this one because it involves hypnotism. Crime fiction should not involve hypnotism, that’s not how crimes work. If we allow crimes to be solved using supernatural powers then we might as well classify ‘The Ghost Whisperer’ as crime fiction and if we’re going to head down that slippery slope, why don’t we just categorise ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ as Erotic Literature other than what it really is, which is Domestic Violence Paperback? Luckily, the hypnotism wasn’t a distracting element of the story so, overall, the reading experience was still pleasant, it just took me by surprise.

But besides that issue, it’s still typical Phryne Fisher. I’ve previously written about this series and there aren’t many differences between this novel and the first two. Phryne’s wits, resilience, wardrobe and sexual appetite are still as dominating as ever. The supporting cast are slowly expanding but we never lose focus on Phryne, demonstrating just how well developed a character she is. Furthermore, there’s still that clever way Fisher solved the murder so that the solution doesn’t feel like it was pulled out of thin air. The underlying realism in the novel really showed off Greenwood’s real life exposure to crime.

However, despite the obvious application of years of legal experience, Greenwood doesn’t serve this story to us with a straight face. There’s always a giant wink and a tap on the nose and I think that’s why I still enjoyed this instalment and I think it’s also why the Phryne Fisher series has lasted as long as it has. Greenwood had fun with the novel and subsequently the reader had fun with the novel. Maybe it’s my naiveté about life but the book experience is always so much more enjoyable when the writer’s appreciation of people and life shines through.

I smashed through this on the plane ride home so a quick read equates to a quick review. I really just wanted to complain about the hypnotism.


On Another Note

There’s nothing wrong with combining mystery-solving with supernatural means; in fact, they go together like peanut butter and jelly. However, unless supernatural elements are treated with a light hand (like in ‘Murder on the Ballarat Train’), there’s a huge risk the author abuses the potential loophole and allow for plot holes to be fixed via something as stupid as clairvoyance or even worse, have some crucial evidence hidden for the sole purpose of amping up dramatic reveals. Some writers do it well, some do it cheaply.



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