Monday, July 29, 2013

RUDDY GORE: Another delightful Australian Romp from Kerry Greenwood

Phryne Fisher, the insouciant, wealthy, experienced and titled English woman, living in Melbourne, Australia in the mid-twenties, meets her new lover and solves a very theatrical murder.

Let me begin by stating that this is not Greenwood’s best Phryne Fisher mystery. Which is only to say that it is a very good novel. And a very good mystery. Phryne Fisher, outfitted in her finest encounters some low-lifes in a dark Melbourne alley, assists in saving an elderly Chinese woman, and thereby meets the man who will become her lover. Even today in Australia, the idea of a white woman in bed with a Chinese man is scandalous. In the nineteen twenties, there might have been riots. It’s well documented that in the early and mid-twentieth century, Australia’s immigration policy was to try to maintain white dominance against what must have been enormous pressures from surrounding lands.

But, Phryne Fisher being who she is, and apparently author Kerry Greenwood being who she is, the Fisher lass is prepared to breech any and all social customs she deems injurious to other people. We are thereby granted some special and fascinating insights into the way in which the successful Asian professional and business people conduct themselves in Australian society.

I mention this at the head of this review, because that is one of Greenwood’s special gifts to the discerning reader—and Greenwood deserves the widest possible audience. The central plot revolves around the local production of “Ruddigore,” one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s delightful light operas. The mystery involves trickery, ghostly presences, a large cast of principals and members of the chorus, a long-dead singer and former inamorata of the head of this acting company, and the delightful and continuous perambulations of our detective, Phryne Fisher.

You will be treated to on-stage murder, at least one attempted murder and keen insights into the backstage lives of actors and actresses. Through all the emotional turbulence that threatens to destroy the production, the Silver Lady makes her fastidious way to the truths of the matter.

Here is Phryne Fisher: “…a small woman dressed in silver; a brocade dress which fitted close to her slim body, a cap of the same material with wings at each side, and on her small feet silver kid boots with wings at the ankle …. She had a pale face and startling green eyes, and black hair barely longer than the cap. The hatchet swung loosely in her gloved hand.”

Kerry Greenwood writes with insight, fine command of language, clever plotting and excellent historical perspective. An almost flawless, worthwhile mystery novel.