Murder on the Ballarat Train
By Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press
Hardcover, 160 pages, $24.95
Another slender romp by the first lady of female detectives, Lady Phryne Fisher. Certainly, the most glamorous of 1920’s Australia. I happen to think she’s one of the best detectives to arise in a very long time among the characters of crime fiction While her time on and off the train to Ballarat my not be her finest hours, Phryne Fisher manages to pull off a very delicious coup and add to her family in Melbourne.
This is the primary importance of this novel; it explains the presence in later books of two minor if charming characters, the children Jane and Ruth. With her faithful Watson at her side in the person of her maid Dot, the Hon. Ms. Fisher goes off by sedate train to Ballarat for a week of R & R. They are hardly on their way, settled in for the night in the sleeping car, when Phryne detects skullduggery. There is poisonous gas about. Does she scream for the conductor? Of course not. She pulls forth her trusty .32 cal. Beretta and plugs the glass out of their sleeping compartment window, thereby rousing officials and neighbors and saving several lives in the process.
Things descend from there. Determining why chloroform is being foisted on the passengers is interrupted by encounters with a young escapee from a white slave operation and, back in Melbourne, several excellent encounters with members of a local rowing team, every one of them apparently an engaging young man.
It all gets sorted out in the end, of course, under the sure guiding hand of author Greenwood, but not without her usual dead-on pot shots at some of the less savory aspects of our society. Another delightful and thoughtful criminous novel in this continuing series.