MURDER AND MENDELSSOHN
Kerry Greenwood ISBN978-1-74237-956-2
It’s murder most musically foul in Kerry Greenwood’s latest novel, Murder and Mendelssohn. Phryne Fisher, the stylish private detective with nerves of steel, keeps her trusty pearl-handled pistol strapped to her silk garter as she investigates not one but two villains plotting to harm those she holds dear.
As with all twenty books in this series, it is the year 1929. Whilst times are changing, the world is still conservative; people know their place and a respectable reputation is everything. Fortunately the rich, titled and beautiful Phryne Fisher makes her own rules, and society gracefully acquiesces to her will whether she is dancing in her undergarments, piloting an aeroplane or apprehending villains.
The story is set in Melbourne, and readers will appreciate the references to streets and places that can still be visited today, such as Collins St and the iconic Windsor Hotel. St Kilda Beach features when a would-be-murderer drives past Phryne and tries to shoot her. Australian food such as the Pavlova is featured in delectable detail as Phryne’s adopted daughter Ruth works toward her dream of being a gourmet cook. Readers may wish to have a few snacks on hand to prevent drooling over the pages.
With Phryne’s beloved Lin Chung overseas, she is looking for distraction, and finds it when the solid, loyal Inspector Robinson, perfect in his role as the bumbling policeman, asks for her help with the case of a murdered maestro. Robinson is out of his depth with the singers and musicians, and Phryne agrees to provide her help, and her singing voice, to solve this mystery. Readers familiar with the author will know that music is close to Greenwood’s soul, and she peppers the novel with lines of verse from classical pieces, layering the mystery with a melancholy softness. The music however does nothing to help Phryne, who is baffled by this case; there are too many suspect singers, and too many red herrings, and she struggles to protect her musical friends from the killer.
If that is not enough, Phryne encounters her old friend John from their Red Cross days during the Great War. John is in danger due to his friendship with the arrogant and insensitive Rupert, whose codebreaking past has caught up with him, and Phryne must call on her allies from her time with MI6 to protect them both. Readers are in for a treat because John and Rupert are Greenwood’s tribute to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from the latest British television series. The characters are more than just facsimiles, with their own history and personalities, and Greenwood introduces a love story between the two men. The narrative also allows Phryne and John to explore their tragic and bloody history from the war, giving the reader further insight into the past that transformed Phryne into the formidable woman she is today.
As with all of the novels, Phryne ensures that she has time for a lover or two between bouts of tackling killers, and enlists the help of her eclectic family and friends to rescue destitute souls in need of her help.
For the first time, Greenwood hints at a little flirtation between Phryne and Inspector Robinson. This is unusual for the Inspector, who is happily married, and it is perhaps the author’s attempt to nudge the books in the direction of the character adaptations portrayed in the Phryne Fisher television series.
With so many twists and turns to the plot, this is Greenwood’s longest Phryne novel yet. The book manages to maintain tension and pace despite the moments of reflection between Phryne and John, and the revisits to Phryne’s MI6 past. Whilst the lines of musical verse are excessive, musical devotion is intrinsic to many of the characters, and the verse is exquisite.
Murder and Mendelssohn offers all that a Phryne Fisher fan expects from her stories: danger, action, mystery, crooked crooks and romance. And best of all, it stars the gorgeous, intelligent, deadly Phryne, living by her own rules and making 1929 Melbourne a better place.