“Dot closed her eyes. Miss Fisher was about to happen to someone again. She hoped that Phryne wouldn’t get blood on her shoes. That glacé kid was a beast to clean…”
That is the perfect introduction to the Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher – and to Dot. This force of nature disguised as a flapper is striding into the fray in defense of the defenseless … And Dot, no flapper, is unflappable in support of her employer. She’s had to get blood out of Miss Fisher’s clothes before, you can tell – but she has faith that it will be only in a good cause.
I love that little paragraph. It’s wonderful non-typical character description, gets a whole lot of information about two characters into four short sentences, and shows how good a writer Kerry Greenwood is. It is the very definition of “Show, don’t tell”. Ms. Greenwood writes with a confidence and flair worthy of her heroine.
‘Who’re you?’ grunted an oaf with short blond hair, giving the fisherboy another shove.
‘Phryne Fisher. Who are you?’
The curly-headed oaf was struck with an inconvenient memory when he heard that tone. He suddenly recalled a Maori storyteller from his childhood. One of their heroes had addressed an enemy: ‘What name shall I put on the cup I shall make from your skull?’
How great is that? A sudden, isolated jump into the brain of a thug, showing him to be smarter and more observant than might have been assumed – and, again, giving a really beautiful thumbnail sketch of Miss Fisher without even directly referencing her.
These are the reasons I love Phryne Fisher, and why I love Kerry Greenwood. Well, some of the reasons. There are lots. Though I doubt Phryne would actually make a cup from someone’s skull. She could, I have no doubt, but she almost certainly knows some artisan who could make an exquisite object for her.
“Jane dropped her book — but caught it before it hit the floor.” There’s another one. This speakes volumes (pun sort of intended) about Jane.
Oh, another reason I love Kerry Greenwood? Phryne meets “a straight-backed girl, possibly, in I Zingari cricket costume, with a stick of celery in his or her lapel instead of a daisy”. That is a reference few would try, much less pull off, and it made me happy.
Yet one more reason: I learn things I never thought to learn. For example, that last quote made me look up “I Zingari”, and that was a fun rabbit hole. I also learn British and Aussie slang that is always nice to have in one’s back pocket. “That one is a wet slap and a dead loss.” Sometimes she doesn’t even make me look a new thing up: “The cup which Ruth sugared and milked contained tea which was sepia in colour and as strong as a thunderstorm. ‘Could trot a mouldiwarp on that,’ observed Tinker proudly. Phryne shuddered slightly, but she was willing to admit that a mole of moderate size could certainly have waltzed on the surface without peril.”
Another quote: “Money can’t buy happiness but it can vastly improve the quality of your misery.” It’s sometimes difficult to enjoy a character who has money to burn. The rich in reality are so often clueless unempathetic monsters. (Lord Peter overcomes his wealth by being … Lord Peter.) As for Phryne, she didn’t always have money – she grew up well and truly hardscrabble. So it’s vicariously enjoyable to watch Phryne spend – especially when the spending goes not only on expensive clothing and perfumes (I do want to try Jicky someday), but on friends and those in need.
I love Phryne. Long may she wave.
And many thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy for review (belated though the review is.)