Phryne Fisher is a bored young rich girl. Born into grinding poverty in Australia, she is now the daughter of a wealthy father and fairly obscenely rich. But unlike other girls her age, she is bored with visiting the poor, and she hates to do embroidery. Gossip has lost its sheen, and she is too clever and keen-eyed to fall for the embraces of men who are only after her for her money.
But when she saves the diamond necklace of the French Ambassador's wife from being stolen at her father's home, the witness to her brilliance, the Colonel who had recently returned from India, asked for her help. His daughter was married to an Australian man, and had, on her last visit to her family, appeared weak and pale. But by the time she left, she appeared strong and healthy once again. Now, after returning to her husband, has gone weak and sickly once more.
They believe he is causing her stomach upsets, and want Phryne to unmask him. Phryne is tiring of England, and sees no problem in returning to her birthplace, nor in looking in on the Colonel's daughter to see how she is doing. She immediately packs and takes off for Australia.
On the boat, she meets and befriends an older female Scottish Doctor, Elizabeth MacMillan, and when they arrive in Melbourne, sees her off to the Hospital she will be working at. She also meets Bert and Cecil (known as Cec), a pair of Taxi drivers (although one drives an old fruit delivery truck).
Soon after she is ensconced in her hotel, they stumble onto a man who shoves a young woman into the back of their cab and tells them to take her to the docks, but they see the girl is bleeding badly and instead take her to the hospital, where she is taken to Doctor MacMillan, who tells the men that the girl is suffering from a botched abortion and septicemia. It's unlikely she'll survive, but Dr. MacMillan aims to try and save her life.
The two men (Bert especially) are enraged by this, and Bert is determined to catch the man who thrust the girl into the cab, even though they know nothing about him and have only a vague description to go on. And to that end, they enlist Phryne's help to try and catch the man. Meanwhile, Phryne rescues a girl from being attacked by ruffians and takes the girl on as her maid. Dorothy, or Dot, is a little surprised by Phryne's morals, but her rescue of Dot excuses a lot, so she doesn't complain.
Meanwhile, Phryne also discovers that a cocaine ring has taken over Melbourne, and decides to help the Police discover the people behind it. But when it leads her to the house of the Indian Colonel's daughter, can she discover the means to ending not only the cocaine ring, a society for murder, find the truth of the weakness and infirmity of the Colonel's daughter, and bring everyone involved to justice, not to mention find the criminally incompetent abortionist who had nearly killed the girl and have killed many more?
This is the first book in the Phryne Fisher series, and show how she ended up in Australia from her position of wealth in England. Honestly, I thought that the book would show her parting from her family being a little more fractious, since I got the impression from other books that her family would prefer it if she moved back to England and got married to a suitable man.
But this parting was surprisingly placid. it was treated as a non-issue, here at least. Of course, the situation may have changed between now and later books, and I haven't read them all, so I can't tell if and when this may have changed. Still, I liked this volume. Phryne has always been a clever and glamorous figure, and she certainly is one here as well.
I liked the way we are introduced to many characters who will become important later in the series, not just Dot, but Bernie and Cec, and Dr. MacMillan as well. It was great to read, and now I want to read more of the early books. Each book is a perfect little bite of mystery that satisfies without being overwhelming or tedious. Highly recommended, both for the book and the series.