Murder and Mendelssohn (A Phryne Fisher Mystery #20) – Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press
January 2014 ISBN 9781464202483
I am a self-confessed Phryne tragic and have previously gobbled up each new read with relish, so I was very excited to receive the latest as a birthday gift. While I definitely appreciate the present, I have to say I was quite disappointed in this latest offering from Kerry Greenwood (whose work I admire immensely).
This latest novel with the irrepressible, stylish and intelligent Phryne and her assorted household and companions seems to be almost a hotch-potch of ideas and themes. I personally didn’t find it as well-written and ‘neat’ as previous episodes and also found the characters almost one-dimensional and uninteresting.
There are a couple of storylines going on here – first a choir with not one but two murdered conductors, then there is a friend from Phryne’s Great War days with his unpleasant companion (and his Sherlock Holmes –esque deductive superiority) and their homosexual affair, as well as a left-over attachment to this pair in the way of a former arms dealer turned Melbourne gang boss. It’s messy and unnecessarily complicated and the resolution is flat and anti-climatic.
Several points were jarring. Firstly, there seems to be a definite edge of flirtation going on between Phryne and her pet policeman Jack. Now there has never been any suggestion of this in any of the books – and I can only assume, this has crept in influenced by the TV series, in which it is very much a focus. Next, was the complete and utter absence of the beautiful Lin Chung and his soothing presence which exudes harmony – throughout the household. Then there is the completely ridiculous supposition that despite John Wilson is a confirmed homosexual – [and was, during the Great War when he and Phryne first met, yet they had a quick fling in a moment of dire shock (which I could almost believe)] – and appears in Melbourne totally absorbed and enraptured by the odious Rupert Sheffield ……yet he is falling into Phryne’s bed at the drop of pair of silk knickers and is there night after night until Phryne ‘fixes’ things between him and his potential lover. From that point, John and Rupert are constantly entwined in private and in front of others. Added to this is the complete nonchalant acceptance of this whole farcical situation by Phryne’s household. Now, might I remind you of when Lin Chung was to marry, with the intention of Phryne remaining his concubine? The Butlers were fully determined to resign their position – so they must have really mellowed since then if they are more than happy to have a homosexual both in their mistress’ bed and then in the arms of his male lover. And Dot? The easily shockable (though she has become resigned to Phryne’s morals or lack of same) and good Catholic girl has apparently not a single issue with this pair of dreary young men. I am really not sure what Kerry’s agenda is here – aside from perhaps she is trying to make a statement of her personal views in light of our current national divide on gay marriage.
The portrayal of both Jane and Ruth, Phryne’s adopted daughters is also at odds with previous novels with the pair almost caricatured in their own personalities. Indeed, caricature seems to be a word that applies to many of the uninteresting personalities abounding in this novel.
Oh and just to top it off, we suddenly discover that Phryne is considered ‘the most dangerous woman in the world’ by her former head in the secret service. Her espionage career was beyond James Bond. I’m not entirely sure when she had time to indulge in this spy game as her war service for the past 19 books was definitely ambulance driver and following her discharge she landed in Paris where she was an artist’s model, refusing to return to the stately home and becoming embroiled with a nasty Frenchman – and then as far as I was aware, she emigrated to Australia??
The choir who go on obsessively trilling their Elijah despite the murders of two of their unpleasant conductors seems a little over the top. And while crazy people do abound its true, the resolution of the murder –which is not even solved by the estimable Miss Fisher – with a poor old drunken pianist apparently outraged to insanity by the massacre of his beloved Mendelssohn is just a little too weak for this reader.
All in all, while I thank my friend Lyndy very much for adding to my Phryne collection, I do hope that Ms Greenwood returns to the Phryne we love if there is to be another episode.