1929: Girls are going missing in Melbourne. Little, pretty golden-haired girls. And not just pretty. Three of them are pregnant, poor girls from the harsh confines of the Magdalene Laundry. People are getting nervous. Polly Kettle, a pushy, self-important Girl Reporter with ambition and no sense of self-preservation, decides to investigate - and promptly goes missing herself. It's time for Phryne and Dot to put a stop to this and find Polly Kettle before something quite irreparable happens to all of them. It's all piracy and dark cellars, convents and plots, murder and mystery...and Phryne finally finds out if it's true that blondes have more fun.
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All good books should have a little of everything - humour, fear, grief, relaxation and exhilaration. And this book has all those in spades.
I have to say, I've got a bit of a lady-crush on Phryne. She's the kind of gal you love to love. Wild and chic, tough and compassionate, feisty and laid back. She has a wardrobe I'd love to own; a collection of lovers I doubt I could say no to, a butler who makes cocktails I dream about tasting, but most importantly, she always gets her bad guy.
Considering the number of years over which the character of Phryne has strutted her stuff (from 1989 when Cocaine Blues was published, to now in Unnatural Habits), I am continually amazed at how true Kerry stays to her character. Very few authors have the ability to delineate such a clear and resonating character who is maintained in all their glory from book 1 to book 19; especially when the dates of publication span more than 2 decades! But Phryne is just as lustrous a character in book 19 as she was in book 1; not a jot of her wit, passion or intelligence has dulled over time. And while she has grown as a person, there have been no jarring changes in personality traits to disrupt the beautiful flow of the series.
Like many others, I was introduced to Phryne via the Australian ABC TV series, and as someone who has rarely ventured out of the classical literature and fantasy/sci-fi genres, these books have blown me away, and as usual, upon reaching the end of the book I bemoaned the need to wait for however long for the next to be published!
The content of this story line provided ample opportunity for Phryne's strengths and weaknesses to be amplified. With a darker tone to the mystery placed before her, and more at stake than just finding a killer to be brought to justice; the achingly intense sense of futility that Phryne feels as she works her way through this case is very poignant, and cannot fail to strike a sympathetic chord with the listener.
Stephanie Daniels is, as ever, the perfect Phryne. Just as Kerry has remained true to the Phryne character over years of development, Stephanie has also maintained such a solid consistency over the duration of the recordings that each character is instantly identifiable from book to book. She is a pleasure to listen to.
I heartily recommend this book - and if you haven't read the others in the series before it, you won't be disappointed with those either, and I do suggest reading them first. Although each book is a complete story in its own right, there are certain aspects of the storyline that carry over from previous books in the series, that although not necessary to the overall understanding of this book, will certainly enhance your enjoyment of it.