First in Phryne Fisher mystery series set in the 1920s.

Publication year: 1991
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel
Running Time: 5 hours, 50 minutes

The story starts in a party in London where a necklace is stolen and Phyrne quickly deduces who did it. One of the guests is so impressed with her wit that he invites her to lunch. The elderly Colonel and his wife are worried about their daughter Lydia; it’s possible that their son-in-law is poisoning the poor girl. Phryne agrees to investigate, although only if the parents don’t interfere. So, she travels to Melbourne prepared to insinuate herself in the local high society.

On the way there, she meets up with an old friend, a Scottish Dr. Elizabeth McMillan. Soon enough, she makes lots of other friends as well. She investigates Lydia and finds her tiresome and clingy. Phryne and McMillan both become also entangled with exposing a local illegal abortionist who rapes girls before butchering them. Several girls have already died.

The book has several plots and view-point-characters. Phryne is the most prominent of the POV characters. There are also Albert, Bert, Johnson, a cabbie who first drives Phryne and McMillan from the harbor to the hotel. Later, a man dumps a bleeding girl into her taxi. It turns out that that man was the illegal abortionist and police can’t do much about him. So, Bert rallies the local communist society to look for the Butcher. Alice Greenham is the bleeding girl and we follow her recovery.

The characters are great! Phryne herself is quite unorthodox character. Even though her father currently has a title and lands in England, Phryne and her family were the poor relations for a long time. So, she knows all about living in poverty and tries to help the poor people around her. At the same time, she enjoys having money and using it. She’s also not sure what she would like to do with the rest of her life. She enjoys driving fast cars and flying fast planes.

One of the first things Phryne does, when she comes to Melbourne, is to help Dorothy who is almost desperate enough to commit murder. Dorothy, Dot, was fired from her previous post as a maid because she refused the advances to her employer’s son. Without money or recommendations, her future is bleak. However, Phryne hires her as her maid and personal secretary, and buys her some new clothes, too.

Dr. McMillan is another unorthodox woman. She’s had to fight to be able to train as a surgeon. She’s employed at the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and it’s still rare for a woman to get a job as a Doctor. She sees daily the abuses that women have to endure and she’s not afraid to speak her mind about it. She also wears trousers which horrifies some people.

There are also Russian dancers and Phryne is rather taken with one of them.

The book has two main plots which move in quite different social classes and Phryne investigates them both. The abortionist targets, of course, poor women and some of her victims are prostitutes. Meanwhile Phryne’s other investigation moves among the high society and cocaine use.

The writing style is quite humorous, even tough the subject matter is often grim. For example: “She had put on her lounging robe of a dramatic Oriental pattern of green and gold, an outfit not to be sprung suddenly on invalids and those of nervous tendencies, and she was rather glad that there was no-one on deck to be astonished.”

Daniel is a great reader. Her pace is unhurried and she even makes a slight Scottish accent for Dr. McMillan. Luckily, she doesn’t use a broad Australian accent for anyone or I might not have understood a lot.