The sixth Phryne Fisher book set in the 1920s Australia. Finally in Audible!

Publication year: 1994
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel
Running Time: 7 hrs and 22 minutes

Mr. Christopher is found dead in his room in the boarding house he is staying. The boarding house doesn’t lack for suspects, because most of the boarders are dancers, circus worker, or otherwise of questionable morals. However, one of the boarders, Miss Parks, has been recently released from prison after she had been imprisoned for a long time since she had been found guilty of killing her husband and most boarders immediately agree that she must have killed the Christopher. When young constable Tommy Harrison and his superior John, Jack, Robinson start investigating the murder, they find out that Christoper was a hermaphrodite, and a woman loved him as a man while a man loved her as a woman. He/she worked in Farrell’s traveling circus. Then the cops get mixed up with the local gangsters.

Meanwhile, the Honorable Phryne Fisher is bored. Her adopted daughters are at school, the Butlers, her lovers, and even her maid are away. She longs for human contact and just then three of her friends from a traveling circus and carnival ask for her help. Strange things have been happening in Farrell’s Circus and Wild Beast Show, and Alan, Samson, and Doreen are afraid that their livelihood is in danger. So, Phryne agrees to take the plunge into a whole another world and investige the circus undercover. She takes on a pseudonym and becomes a trick-horse rider, drawing on her past when she was poor.

Soon, Phryne feels lonely in the circus, too. She realizes that the circus has a rigid caste system and beliefs which separates the circus people from the “carnies” and the gypsies and the foreigners, clowns shouldn’t have lovers because then they aren’t sad enough to be funny, and anyone crossing those lines are thought as a weirdo among freaks. Fortunately, Phryne makes quick friends, too.

The book has a large cast of characters. Only some of the familiar characters make an appearance and then only briefly; most of the time Phryne is in the circus and Robinson is investigating his case. The new characters are very interesting bunch, as you might expect from circus people. I also thought they were very human with superstitions and flaws and unexpected depths. I liked especially the dwarf although he didn’t have many scenes.

Phryne also has to confront her need for approval. She’s very lonely and depressed when she doesn’t have, well, admiring friends or lovers around her. She will do quite a lot to get that approval. She also realizes how much she really likes being rich; having fancy clothing, good food, and servants.

I doubt that the cast here will become regulars the same way that many of the previous books’ casts have become. But I hope we will see them sometime again.

The audio book has a short discussion between Greenwood and the reader Daniels. Greenwood says that she wanted to shake the complacency which might have built up in the previous books, taking Phryne away from her familiar routines and people. She was very successful in this. She also revealed that when she was twelve, she had run away to the circus with a couple of friends. The circus folk returned them to their parents but Greenwood had learned to trick ride. Fascinating!