The Castlemaine Murders

Written by Kerry Greenwood
Review by Steve Lewis

Of the thirteen Phryne Fisher mysteries, this one’s the most recent, and the third to be published in the U.S. by Poisoned Pen Press, who should be commended for “rescuing” a series that the larger publishers have clearly wanted nothing to do with. After all, what market (they must have been thinking) exists in this country for books taking place in 1920s Australia? Their error, if intelligent, witty detective fiction has anything to do with it. But while the audience may be small, spread the word. Maybe we can boost the sales enough that the people with power will be encouraged to print the earlier ones as well.

Phryne (which rhymes with briny) is a liberated unmarried lady with a married Chinese lover named Lin Chung. Not too recently arrived from England, Melbourne is now her new home, complete with two adopted precocious daughters and a small staff of intensely dedicated servants.

A quick summary: a mummified body found in an amusement park ride, a small fortune in gold stolen from Chung’s family in 1857, and Phryne’s sister newly arrived from England, and very unhappy about it. All mixed and shuffled and combined with several mild doses of coincidence, as tales of this nature usually are. Well, truthfully, it’s a whopper of a coincidence or two, but it’s highly forgivable, given circumstances that generate reading as pleasant as this, including some hugely interesting sidesteps into Australian history – the early gold fields, and the role of the Chinese in that regard.