Monday, December 29, 2008

Murder in the Dark

Finished another Kerry Greenwood mystery last night: Murder in the Dark. It stars Greenwood’s high-class amateur sleuth, Phryne Fisher.
I’m sure I started this novel a couple of years ago, but not a thing about it was familiar, so perhaps I never got past the first couple of pages.
Anyway, it has the usual host of Greenwood characters, well-delineated, so that you don’t get confused (though it helps to have read another one in the series recently), and it has the usual ambience, and mise-en-scene, and wide range of strange people (stranger than usual in this one). It’s set in a country mansion that exists in reality half-an-hour from Melbourne, but Greenwood has taken some liberties with the place.
The story is about a major party (The Last Best Party) which is spread over several days one Christmas, and involves endless amounts of food, heaps of guests, musicians, and other sundries. It also includes some pretty strange goings-on, which Phryne, being the lady she is, indulges in pretty fully. A brother and a sister, constantly referred to as ‘gods’ because of their singular beauty, have put the party on, and they’re attended on by a bunch of male and female acolytes, some of whom get in on the action. There’s a very odd little boy by the name of Tarquin, a missing little girl called Marigold, and a jazz singer called Nerine – who’s so short-sighted she has to be prevented from slipping off the edge of the stage. And then there’s Nicholas, who’s obviously more than he seems, but what is that ‘more’?
Greenwood has a knack of drawing her characters clearly, and only very occasionally did I mistake one name for another. She delights in detailing how food is made and eaten, what clothes look best (especially on Phryne, who is compared the film star Louise Brooks at one point), what the surroundings contain and so on. The book is a trifle overlong, but it’s not because Greenwood is ever a dull writer; perhaps there’s just too much information. And it’s certainly a more compact mystery than the other Phryne Fisher I read not long ago.
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