Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood

Driving home one night past Victoria Dock, Phryne's car windshield is shattered by a bullet, but she escapes injury. On the side of the road near where she stopped, however, is a young man with an Anarchist "A" tattoo who has been shot. Phryne attempts to help him, but the young man dies in her arms, leaving blood all over her hands, and all over her blouse.

Angry at the waste of the handsome young man's life, Phryne decides to find the killer or killers. All she knows about the young man is that he is Russian, and that his mother is from Riga. She also knows that there were two men who shot at him. But with the young man dying, Phryne has had a great shock, and after she summons the police and gives a statement, a young constable drives her home.

The next day, he comes back to take a fuller statement, and Phryne notes, with some amusement, that Dot and the young constable have connected with each other. Nothing shocking or obscene, but Dot finds his attentions and regard pleasant. He asks Phryne for help with the case, and she advises him. She also has a meeting with a client, a Mr. Waddington-Forsythe, whose fourteen year old daughter has gone missing after a quarrel with his new wife, who is pregnant.

Phryne's daughters go to school with the girl, and additionally, she wanted to join a convent. The father had gone to the convent, but the Mother Superior denied she was there. Phryne agrees to take the case, but with the condition that if she hasn't found the daughter within a week, she will send all her notes and observations to the Police and let them take over the case. Mr. Waddington-Forsyth agrees.

She goes to the house and interviews the step-mother and brother, and searches the girl's room. There, she finds that the girl was something of a religious fanatic, with a grotesque image of the crucifixion on the wall from which she could see it on her bed. But Phryne cannot find the girl's diary, which she knows such a girl would have. She must have taken it with her.

She returns home and reads a book on the labor movement, and then has dinner with her friends Bert and Cec, both of whom are communists. She asks them about the cause, and they complain that too many communists only care about what is happening in Russia, becoming Leninites or Trotskyites. Bert and Cec care more about revolution in Australia, as that is where it is needed.

But this boy was an anarchist, something far different. They tell her that not long ago, the Anarchists in Australia were killed in a gunfight, the house they were occupying burnt to the ground. But that didn't kill off the movement. More sprang up in their place- some hadn't been in the house, others had been in Paris, and now they are back again.

Later, Phryne attends a late supper given by the Wilsons. acquaintances who she would not want to spend time with, but for the sake of the case... At their party, she meets "Peter Wilson"- an obviously false name, who is able to tell her more about the Anarchists. Apparently, because they refuse to be "exploited by the state", they refuse to work, and this, cannot amass any kind of money. So they have taken to crime as a means to get the money they need, for the purpose of training an army and assassinating Stalin.

She invites Peter back to her house so they can discuss this some more. Peter isn't sure whether or not to approve of Phryne, who is rich, and thus would be one of the capitalist oppressors, but she tells him her history, that she starved through her childhood, and her father inherited a title after the war, making her a lady. He decides to excuse her, given her history, and her great beauty.

Phryne wants to do right by the dead boy- to find his name, tell his family how he died, and to see that he gets buried with the funeral rights he deserves, but his family is just as deep in the anarchists as he is. Can Phryne keep them alive even as the Anarchists plan a horrible plot, and not in Russia, either?

As for Miss Alicia Waddington-Forsyth, Phryne finds out from her daughters that the girl was a bit of a stick in the mud, only concerned with religion and faith. Although she didn't like her stepmother so much, she didn't really hate her, either. So what could make such a religious girl run away? Where has she gone, and will she ever return home?

I love Phryne, who embodies everything that most women want to be: constantly slim and slender and toned, no matter how much she eats, rich, beautiful and almost effortlessly fashionable. She's smart, witty, and generally keeps a cool head in a crisis.

Here, we get to see Phryne genuinely unnerved. Of course, when she's happened on death before, it's generally after the fact- the body is dead, and she must solve who and what made the person dead. But... this time, a young man, almost a boy dies in her arms, leaving her covered in blood. She's never had such an experience before, and it shakes her more than a little. But when it wears off, Phryne becomes a tigress on the behalf of that beautiful boy.

The mystery of Alicia, that was less mysterious than the death of the Anarchist. Indeed, the clues are laid out in Phryne's first meeting with her father and the visit to her home- well, part of the mystery, at least. The rest is more fantastic, and somewhat cringe-inducing, but it certainly put a sting in the tail of the book.

Another excellent mystery, even though it wasn't my favorite. I think there is something of a dress-up doll aspect to Phryne Fisher books, as what she is wearing and how she dresses is always mentioned, almost like a girl playing with her Barbies. But it certainly adds something to the book that other mysteries don't have.

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