Unnatural Habits is the 19th in the series of Phryne Fisher novels by Kerry Greenwood. Phryne Fisher is a fiction series I discovered through television before reading the books so the actress is always present while I read. We access more of the interior Phryne in the books and she is more interesting for that.
In Unnatural Habits , Phryne sets out to find some missing women. Three women disappeared from a lying-in house, transferred from the convent laundry where they had been sent after becoming pregnant, where they were waiting to deliver their babies. An intrepid but silly cub reporter has been also investigating the missing women and herself disappears, bringing Phryne into the story. Through her investigation, Phryne tracks all sorts of possibilities and the investigation wides as she learns of more and more disappeared women all linked to a Catholic charity, a temp agency, and the Magdalen Laundry, the convent, and a mysterious commune.
Who went where and why is so much more complex that you might first thing, but Phryne is doggiest and does not rest until the mystery is tided up…just in time for the 20th book, I am sure.
I enjoy Kerry Greenwood’s novels. I enjoy Phryne. I think she is an unlikely character, her character is a form of wish fulfillment. Beautiful, free, wealthy, brilliant, fashionable, kind, and with the values and mores of 2017. That’s not to say she anachronistic, the historical research is on point. Greenwood refers to actual places, people, and events in Melbourne. There is a strong sense of time and place. Phryne though, is sort of like Paul Fussell’s “category X”, a person outside the class structure…and in this case, out of time.
Greenwood is excellent about reifying Phryne with details about what she wears and how she smells. She’s always putting on interesting scents, such as cypress and her frequent choice, Guerlain’s Jicky. Because this is a series, a cozy series, it lacks that sense of jeopardy that makes for intense suspense. I was surprised that Phryne thinks Agatha Christie’s novel are trite. I cannot imagine Phryne in a Nemesis storyline. Phryne does, however, investigate a much seamier side of life than you will find in Christie’s novels, with stories that feature human trafficking, drug use and trafficking, extortion of homosexuals, domestic violence, rape and the subjugation of women. Perhaps that is what she means. Christie’s novels stay in the upper middle class parlor while Phryne is investigating sweat shops and traffickers.
I like Phryne…and will keep reading as long as Kerry Greenwood keeps on writing. For all her books, she still does not resort to stock pieces such as Kinsey Millhone’s incessant cutting her hair with nail scissors and that never-say-die little black dress of hers. Yes, Phryne takes a lot of baths, but she even gets new bathtubs and uses different scents, so there are variations on her tropes.
Unnatural Habits will be released on July 4th. I was provided an e-galley by the publisher through NetGalley.