Review Fridays: Cocaine Blues

Kerry Greenwood’s series of books about Phryne Fisher has been turned into a delightful television series. This is one of the cases where the adaptation has the upper hand of the book. The script can be cleaned of excesses, the characters can be fully rounded, and the perfect casting simply adds to the improvements. The book Cocaine Blues shows promise, but it reads like the first in a series. It reminds me in many ways of the Lord Peter Wimsey series: a wealthy person who solves crimes for fun, a person well-versed in many matters, and who is infinitely attractive, seemingly perfect, yet somehow still likeable.

Phryne Fisher, a native of Australia living in England after her father inherits a title and money, returns to her home country at the request of a man of her social circle. He is worried that his daughter, Lydia, is being poisoned by her husband. Miss Fisher investigates the matter circumspectly and in style, picking up companions to help her along the way. She stops a woman named Dot from exacting revenge on her former employer’s son and then hires her to be her lady’s maid. Two taxi drivers, Bert and Cec, are wannabe revolutionaries, but are also supremely down-to-earth and street smart.

One of the problems, I think, is that the book tries to do too much. Besides the investigation into what is wrong with Lydia, there is a butcher abortionist (which, to my frustration, in no way ties into the larger plot) and an attempt to identify the King of Snow, the leader of a cocaine operation. The villain was somewhat easy to figure out. I suspected what Lydia’s poisoning meant because it seemed to be lifted straight from one of the Lord Peter Wimsey books. Yet, the characters are interesting, particularly Phryne, who shares a lot in common with her namesake.

I am torn about this book. On one hand, it was a good start to the series. I can see the potential in the characters and the setting. There are not many books set in Australia that become best-sellers in America, and the time-period and scandalous nature of the heroine could help the series to evolve into something spectacular. On the other hand, I am not sure if I will pick up the next book. Devoting time to a series is a big commitment, and at the moment there are twenty books in the Phryne Fisher series. I am tempted to find the latest book in the series to see if the potential does in fact play out, but I am afraid doing so would ruin the earlier books in the series.

In short, I recommend this book, but only if you intend to commit the time and energy to tackling the entire series. The complete list of books and reading order can be found here.