by Kerry Greenwood
The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honorable Phryne Fisher—she of the gray-green eyes and diamant garters—is tiring of polite conversations with retired colonels and dances with weak-chinned men. When the opportunity presents itself, Phryne decides it might be amusing to try her hand at becoming a lady detective in Australia.
Immediately upon settling into Melbourne's Hotel Windsor, Phryne finds herself embroiled in mystery. From poisoned wives and cocaine smuggling, to police corruption and rampant communism—not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse—Cocaine Blues charts a crescendo of steamy intrigue, culminating in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street.
(Hm. That blurb doesn't strike my fancy. If I'd read that before starting, I might never have started!) I wanted to like it-- and it wasn't terrible-- but there were enough irritants to convince me that it was okay to leave the rest unread. (An easier decision since I downloaded the book back when it was a freebie on Amazon.)
-- I've seen a review in which someone writes that the heroine, Phryne Fisher, suffers from Mary Poppins ("Practically Perfect") Syndrome-- which is a concise expression of my chief annoyance. Yes, Phryne is too perfect. She seems to excel at everything she tries, painfully stretching the poor reader's suspension of disbelief. A little of that is only to be expected in a heroine, but after a point, it's boring (if not grating).
-- The clothes seem to be almost as important as the characters. Good grief, historical writers! Why the obsession with clothes?! Maybe I'm an anomaly, but I don't like it when every wardrobe change is meticulously detailed. Tell me a little every now and then, so I get a feel for the period, but reading about Phryne's latest ensemble every few pages is deadly dull. (If I'm hungry for pretty costumes, I'll watch a period drama.)
-- This book is too modern and political for me. (!) The setting may be the 1920s, but Phryne doesn't behave like a typical woman of the 1920s. (A certain amount of that I can forgive, since she's not supposed to be a typical woman, but...) She has purely physical relationships, for instance. A little hint here and there is fine, but I can't really admire her when I learn that she has repeatedly slept with someone she describes as an "appalling lounge-lizard". Apparently there was no emotional connection whatsoever-- and (surprise!) I'm not impressed. Then there's the sympathetic treatment of Communist-leaning characters... Just, yuck. No thanks. Not interested. Oh, and all the junk about abortions... Meh. Not what I was expecting.
Well, that last bit is the problem in a nutshell. It was not what I was expecting. Not what I wanted, either. So, I'm stopping 35% of the way through the book, and I'll find something else to read, instead.
P.S. All the uneducated / working class characters say "yair" for "yes". I've heard Australian accents on TV and in movies, but I don't remember anyone saying "yair"...