Death in Daylesford by Kerry Greenwood

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

In her latest mystery, not one murder but three deaths in Daylesford confront the beautiful detective who has twenty solved criminal investigations to her credit in prior adventures.  Phryne Fisher, famed for her many abilities including having an impeccable fashion sense, sets off with Dot, her ingenuous assistant, who, to Phryne’s concern, is obsessed with wearing a variety of dull and muted shades, usually of brown.

The pair of young women leave Melbourne in the Hispano Suiza, an exotic car which assumes the characteristics of a powerful roaring beast.

So the scene is set, with Kerry Greenwood’s elegant creation dashing towards Daylesford and the challenges that lie in wait.

Phryne’s pursuit of her detective work is done with grace and ease that is almost casual. She has an amused relaxed air which cleverly disguises her serious intent.  In this latest romp, their escapades are described in exhaustive detail. Characters, scenery, buildings and most of all, clothes and food are scrupulously noted.  Adjectives are liberally attached to nouns.  It takes an entire paragraph to describe Annie, the barmaid of the Temperance Hotel, and the effect of her smile on young men.

Perhaps it is a little excessive to refer to a kookaburra as ‘vociferous’?

The book is sprinkled with outrageous humour: “his watery eyes resembled those of a goldfish who has forgotten the whereabouts of the treasure chest” accurately paints a lugubrious picture.

Fixed attention is conveyed when Annie’s – the barmaid – every movement is watched “like dogs at a tennis match.”  Best of all is the comment: “Dry party or not, the man was as plastered as a Giotto fresco.”

Readers who relish action, forensic analysis and grim views of bodies and scenes of crime will find Death in Daylesford rather tame.

Miss Fisher and Dot solve the murders and together expose the slavery of some wives there and free them from their depressing circumstances. To do this, they unravel a complex code of knitting patterns, colourful scarves and the mobile library.

In addition, they contrive that the long-suffering Mrs Pollock escapes her life of domestic violence; and they enable the girls’ exploitation in the Temperance Hotel to come to an end. The owner there is revealed to be an imposter who ruthlessly used a wartime friendship to assume his fake identity.

So this murder mystery had a catalogue of crimes to unearth. The process entailed moves at a genteel pace with a dedication to finer detail.

Kerry Greenwood has deservedly achieved a reputation for creating a sense of place. She deftly transports a reader cosily to that post-war era. She does this with charm and gentle humour, but there are a few exceptions……as when she makes this comparison:

The Captain’s technique of seduction is “comparable to attempting the ascent of Mont Blanc in your underwear with a slow combustion stove attached to each ankle”!!

Accompanying Miss Fisher and Dot to investigate the deaths in the delightful rural setting at Daylesford offers pleasant escapism to a time when problems were solved with lively persistence, thoughtful logic and observation, with a dash of amusement thrown in.

There is a suggestion of the approach of Agatha Christie and GK Chesterton’s Father Brown; however, for readers who enjoy this more leisurely style of sleuthing, Death in Daylesford is ideal.

Death in Daylesford

[2020]

by Kerry Greenwood

Allen and Unwin

ISBN 978 1 7433 1034 2

315 pages.     $29.99

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