Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cocaine Blues: Kerry Greenwood


This is the first book in Kerry Greenwood's long running series about Phryne Fisher, a rich young woman who was born in Australia but lives in London as the series begins in 1928.

Cocaine Blues opens with Phryne attending a social event at her parents' home in London. A diamond necklace is stolen and she quickly solves the crime before the guests have left. A friend of her father, Colonel Harper, is very impressed with Phryne's detecting, and asks her to go to Melbourne and check on his daughter. He and his wife fear that she is being poisoned by her husband. Phryne had already been considering returning to Australia, and is bored with society events in London so she agrees to take the trip and see what she can do.

This book exceeded my expectations. I knew the heroine was an adventuress, and the setting was in the 1920s, so my assumptions were that it would be cozyish and very unrealistic. The unrealistic part may be somewhat true; I am not familiar enough with history and women's roles at the time. But this book was such fun to read that I did not care. It was a very refreshing read.

Phryne loves to dress well and she has the money to do it. When she flaunts her money, it is usually to make an impression on someone she wants information or cooperation from. She uses her charms and her status to gain information and cooperation more easily. Based on appearances, Phryne could be called shallow and frivolous, but much of her behavior is a means to an end. Sexy and independent, she is not worried about the opinions of others. The point is made that Phryne grew up in a poor family and only in her teen years did her father inherit money and a title, so she is comfortable with people from all levels of society, and they get along with her fine, too.

Speaking of clothes and dressing well, I read at least one complaint that there is too much focus on dress. There certainly is a lot of emphasis on clothing. Early on, there is a good amount of time devoted to Phryne supplying Dot, her new maid, with appropriate clothing. And shopping. And Dot mending clothes. But, as the adventures start, I noticed that less and less. I also read that the other book I have in this series (#7, Ruddy Gore) has little or no clothing descriptions. So I don't know if this continues in later books.

Phryne is a female James Bond, except that she is not a spy. She is a free spirit and gets involved with multiple men. She likes to drive nice cars and drive very fast, she can fly airplanes, and I am sure she has other undiscovered talents.  If there are faults in this book and this character, it is that Phryne is too perfect, too capable.

There are many things I look for in the mysteries I read, but topping the list is entertainment value. This book was delightful and charming and surprised me throughout, and that makes it a success in my book. There are several mysteries in the story, but I will admit that they were not my main focus when reading the book.

There are now twenty books in the series. I have read that there are a lot of similarities between the books, especially in the early books in the series. I wonder if this means I should put a good bit of time between reading each book, or if I should hop to later books. I would love to hear from anyone who has read this series.

Also see reviews by Bernadette at Fair Dinkum Crime and John Grant at Goodreads. Both reviews mention the TV series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, which is based on this series of books.

This is my first book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017.

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Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press, 2006 (orig. pub. 1989)
Length:    175 pages
Format:    Hardback
Series:     Phryne Fisher #1
Setting:    Australia
Genre:     Historical Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book in 2006.

23 comments:

  1. What a surprise...this sounds like a great book from Aussie land!
    Brona's books hosts a #AusReadingMonth in November...I can use this book, thanks!

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    1. I enjoyed it, Nancy, and I liked the historical setting. I should have read this years ago.

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  2. This book has languished on my tablet for ages. Saw one episode of the TV series and didn't care for it so I've put off reading it. I know Bev @My Readers Block loves these books. I give it a go on your recommendation that it is entertaining!

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    1. I was surprised that I liked it so much, Peggy, this is not usually the type of book I go for. I have not tried the series yet but I want to.

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    2. Yes, indeed. I love this series. I consider Phryne a grown-up's Nancy Drew--she has her roadster and can do all the things (fly airplanes, take on bad guys, etc., etc.).

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    3. That is a very good comparison, Bev, although I cannot remember if I read Nancy Drew when I was younger.

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  3. I'm so very glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. I think it's a fine series. I, for one, don't find the clothes descriptions to be overdone, but I may be in the minority there. I strongly recommend the TV series if you haven't yet seen it. It's quite well-done, I think, and stays very close to the spirit of the novels. Kerry Greenwood has had a lot to do with the TV production, and her standards are high.

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    1. I liked the emphasis on clothing myself, although it does emphasize just how well to do she is. I definitely want to try the TV series. I had read how much Greenwood was involved with it. I like it when a writer protects their books / characters.

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  4. Glad you enjoyed it Tracy, but it's not one for me.

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    1. No, I don't think you would go for this one, Col. Maybe some of my next few books I review will be more to your liking.

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  5. I tried reading one of these a while back, Tracy, and for some reason I couldn't get through it. But based on your enthusiasm, I may try again. Sometimes it's just the mood of the moment. Wasn't crazy about the TV series though - I saw an episode of that first, and maybe it influenced me in a negative way. LOVE that cover.

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    1. I can see why this series would not appeal to everyone, Yvette, and I did not find it to be perfect, but it was the right book at the right time for me. If you do have a chance to try another book, I hope it appeals more.

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  6. I love the TV series, but have not read the books. Yes, Kerry Greenwood is involved in the shows, and she chose Essie Davis to play Phrynne Fisher. Essie Davis is Phrynne Fisher in every way.

    Phrynne is very smart. She outsmarts the police often, then gets into dangerous situations which the police arrive at just in the nick of time. But she is seen as everyone around her as an intelligent, sophisticated woman.

    I love that cover, too. But I also love the clothes on the TV show. They are half the fun. The costume designers go all-out to dress Phrynne and they do a terrific job, making their job into an art.

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    1. I am very eager to try the TV series, Kathy. It seems like some people love it, others don't go for it so much. But the time setting make it seem very appealing.

      Now that I have read more about Kerry Greenwood and her writing, I also want to try the Corinna Chapman series also. But I have too, too many books and I have to wait a while.


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  7. I like the Corinna Chapman series and think I was meant to live in the building she lives in with so many eccentric characters. However, I was born on the wrong continent.

    Those books are a lot of fun and can be a real pick-me-up if needed.

    Kerry Greenwood is a very forward-thinking woman which I say based on her writing of the two series.

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    1. I agree with your assessment of Kerry Greenwood, Kathy, based on what I have read about her books. Seems like she gives the themes behind them a lot of thought. So I am definitely interested. I don't think these show up much at the yearly book sale I go to, but you never know. I will start there, then start looking for copies elsewhere.

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  8. Afraid I'm with Col. Colman on this one, Tracy, altho your review, as always, entices.

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    1. No, I cannot picture this being your kind of book, Mathew. And there is only so much time to read books...

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  9. I read one of these (not sure which one) and didn't take to it, though I frequently wonder if I should try again, as so many people like them. that is so interesting about the clothes descriptions! - as you can imagine, you caught my attention strongly with that... And, I do love that cover.

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    1. I am curious to find out what the later books are like, Moira. I did not expect to enjoy the book so much. Even as I would notice flaws, I would just brush them aside and go with the flow.

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  10. The clothes are half the fun. They are artwork really, and the costume designers are artists.

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    1. I am eager to watch the first episode, Kathy. We can get it through Netflix.

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  11. So many people I know love this series, I need to give it a try.

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