Murder and Mendelssohn – The Phryne Fisher Mysteries
I have totally loved immersing myself in Phryne’s opulent, 1920s world of murder mysteries in Murder and Mendelssohn by Australian author Kerry Greenwood. Beautiful mathematicians, assassination attempts, a choir in need of a conductor, an old lover, gang wars and a case of poisoning are all connected in this stunning addition to the Phryne Fisher Mystery series.
Murder and Mendelssohn is Phryne Fisher’s 20th mystery and it does not fail to satisfy. A choir conductor has been found dead, poisoned before sheet music from Mendelssohn’s Elijah was stuffed down his throat. Phryne is called in to investigate – are there two murderers at work or is someone trying to throw her off the trail? Amongst this mystery, Phryne is reunited with an old lover, Doctor John Wilson, who she met during the Great War. She is hoping to keep him safe, as assassins are after his companion, Rupert Sheffield, the mathematician of lilac-coloured eyes. Phryne must race against time to find the murderer, stop an assassination, and help John and Sheffield realise their true love for each other.
All this and more Phryne does with great aplomb and zest for life. And of course, fashion and cocktails, French cigarettes, her collection of devoted family and comrades, and her trusty pearl handled gun. Phryne is a firework and if you have not yet had the pleasure of her acquaintance, you had better make it quick!
Phryne and Friends
The good thing about these books is that you can pick up anywhere in the series without too much difficulty. Greenwood introduces her cast of characters with wit and charm. The Honourable Phryne Fisher is my hero! Phryne stands out of the crowd of female heroes – she’s sharp minded, puts Sherlock Holmes to shame, can shoot a gun, drive a race car, fly a plane. She is a feminist and champion for human rights in the 1920s, stands up for the underdog and defends the poor with a fierce thirst for justice. She’s also a stunningly beautiful flapper who loves fashion and dancing. An inspiring, modern woman and as Kerry Greenwood herself puts it, “Phryne is a hero, just like James Bond or the Saint, but with fewer product endorsements and a better class of lovers.” (They are definitely of a good class!)
Born in complete poverty in Richmond, Victoria, Phryne’s family came into a staggering wealth when she was twelve, whisking them away to England. Phryne, adventurous and determined, ran away to be an ambulance driver in the final years of the First World War (she was 17). After that she travelled the world, was a model in Paris and now, at the age of 28, is solving crime in jazz age Melbourne. Her history is rich and vibrant, there is very little Phryne hasn’t accomplished or attempted, and thus Phryne does not intend to waste a moment of her lucky, glamorous life.
I’ve found some of the Phryne novels to be oddly heavy on the domestic side of Phryne’s life, but Murder and Mendelssohn was at a perfect balance. The mystery romps along, Phryne has a few near death experiences, and red herrings and genuine clues are thrown about at the perfect moments. The mystery itself is great, a true Agatha Christie style drama. Are the murdered conductor and the assassination attempt on Sheffield connected or not? There is a wide cast of characters to keep track of and plenty of action, intrigue and sleuthing to be done from the upper echelons of society to the dregs of the criminal underworld.
Complementing this is the world of Phryne – she goes out to lunch at fancy hotels, joins a choir, seduces and enchants everyone, eats delectably and drinks Champagne (ah, the food sounds so lovely, you can imagine what Phryne would be like if she had Instagram). I also love the minor players in the novels; upon moving to Australia, Phryne found an assortment of good friends and admirers. There is the darling Dorothy Williams, companion and maid extraordinaire, a motley crew of adopted children – Jane, Ruth and Tinker – a favourite police officer, Detective Inspector John (call me Jack, everyone does) Robinson and a string of handsome lovers to keep her entertained.
Overall the book is very readable, witty and seductive. The research and detail is incredible; you do feel like you’ve fallen back in time to the 1920s (especially remarkable is how the characters are living what we now know as history – Phryne’s account of the war, the hints at major events of the 1920s brewing, even the Harbour Bridge is halfway through construction in this novel! It feels realistic, and is a genuine tribute to a tumultuous and glamorous time in history.) I’d like to draw attention to the commitment to historical accuracy (I did find a tiny slip – a reference to Anais Nin, who was not actually publishing until the 1930s, but we can forgive that!), if you check out Phryne’s website, her horoscope has omitted Pluto for the reason, and I quote, “Pluto not invented yet!” (It was not discovered until February 1930.)
However, there were a few places in the book where it felt like the editing could have been tighter, if only to clear up some of the paragraphs. And, having read every single Phryne novel, I am well accustomed to the fact that she is stunningly beautiful and seductive. But in this book, it feels like the author is reminding you of that every second paragraph, it got a little overdone.
Also, John and Sheffield begin to take on a BBC Sherlock hue. I won’t say it’s complete plagiarism, as while they are remarkably similar to John and Sherlock, they also are incredibly well fleshed out and unique to the Phryne-universe. As a main theme of the novel is John’s unrequited love for Sheffield, Phryne is busy meddling as a matchmaker to throw the two together. It’s here that the novel takes an unexpected detour into what feels like Sherlock fanfiction and has got to be the most out-there seduction attempt I’ve read in a long time!
But the things I like in this book… almost everything! Greenwood is a brilliant writer, sharp and insightful, her characters burst off the page with rich life and history. I always feel like I am getting a lesson in grammar and vocabulary when reading the Phryne books – Greenwood’s mastery of language makes even a simple description of a person enchanting, witty or cut glass condescending. Also, every chapter begins with a quote – be it poetry or a novel – they are little cryptic clues to each chapter and are an added bonus.
All other titles in the Phryne Fisher Mysteries are available, in-store and online! She’s also appearing on the ABC in her second series adapted from the books, starring the gorgeous Essie Davis and Nathan Page!
When Murder and Mendelssohn hits the stands in October, pick it up and enjoy the opulent world of romance and mystery.