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Murder in the Dark
Phryne Fisher Mystery # 16

by Kerry Greenwood


Kerry Greenwood’s 1920s flapper detective Phryne Fisher has been compared to Leslie Charteris’s character, The Saint. Witty, risk taking and pleasure loving, but strongly moral according to their own code, which is more concerned with right than legality. The Saint stories are all pretty basic escapist adventures, but Ms Greenwood offers a wider range of tales in her series. Murder in the Dark is a highly decadent variation on the traditional country house mystery.

Phryne has been invited to The Last Best Party of 1928 for Christmas. The "bright young thing" Templar twins are notorious for their wildly extravagant, sensationalist parties and this looks to be one of their wildest. Still, Phryne hesitates over the RSVP until one of her stepdaughters finds a threat amongst the Christmas cards, ordering Phryne to stay away. Soon after she arrives, Phryne’s host Gerald explains that he needs her help—someone is trying to kill or destroy him or both. Shortly afterward, Gerald’s young protégé becomes the second child to mysteriously vanish and Phryne finds herself following a devilish scavenger hunt to find some answers and hopefully some live prisoners.

Instead of the usual straightforward storytelling from Phryne’s point of view, Ms. Greenwood inserts throughout the story scenes from Phryne’s household’s holiday without her. In addition, a number of chapters end with teaser vignettes featuring The Joker, the dark force behind things. The resulting hovering malevolence probably contributed to this book not having the same lighthearted feel (reflecting Phryne’s personality) as most of this series. That and the, to my taste, over-emphasis on sexual choices and organized decadence at the party. I’ve never found the regular bits about Phryne’s own sensuality off-putting in the other books, but it all came to seem a bit much here, making the humorous returns to normalcy in the scenes about Phryne’s friends and family an even more enjoyable break. Still, there was more to the party than decadence and malevolence. Phryne investigates, there are exciting scenes and some fun ones, involving such wide ranging things as a class war polo match and Phryne’s new friend, a mint-loving goat. Not my favorite in this series, but enjoyable regardless.

The Book

Poisoned Pen Press
March 2009
Historical Mystery / 1928 Australia
More at
NOTE: Sexual content

The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2009
© 2009