Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood

July 15, 2007
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Blood and Circuses
A Phryne Fisher Mystery
Kerry Greenwood

Poisoned Pen Press
07/15/07
Hardcover/220 pages
ISBN: 1-59058-235-7
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". . . a sterling introduction to Phrynne Fisher that whets the appetite for much more."

Blood and Circuses: A mesmerizing and absorbing mystery tour de force.

Circuses have a class system. At the top are the flyers, trapeze artists, the aristocrats of the big top. At the bottom are the gypsies, the diddikoi. Between the circus and the gypsies are the carnies, owners and operators of the sideshow, food booths, and carnival attractions. Each class needs the other to present a show that draws crowds and keeps them coming back.

Into this time-honored system, comes the Honorable Miss Phrynne Fisher, a wealthy lady bored with order and proper society, a lady with a taste for adventure and a desire for mystery.

Alan Lee, a diddikoi (half gypsy and half Gorgio—non-gypsy) and his friends, Samson the strong man and Doreen the snake charmer, comes to ask Phrynne for her help. Farrell’s Circus is in trouble. Accidents, fires, and dying animals wreak havoc with their livelihood and future. Phrynne, disguised as Fern Williams, joins the circus as a rider to find out who—or what—is plaguing Farrell’s.

Constable Tommy Harris, new to the Melbourne police force, climbs down the roof and peers through one of the windows of Mrs. Witherspoon’s very proper boarding house at blood splashed walls ag a very dead Mr. Christopher, also known as Chris/Cross, the half man-half woman. Harris nearly falls to his death, but he is saved by Miss Parkes’s quick thinking and head for heights, thus giving herself away. Just released from prison, Miss Parkes was a flyer with Farrell’s where she killed her husband during their trapeze act. Add one bloody knife found in her room and Constable Harris is obliged to bring her in for murder even though he doesn’t believe she’s guilty.

Rivalry between Melbourne’s two most notorious gangs, the Brunnies and the ‘Roy Boys, heats up. One man is dead, thanks to Lizard Elsie, the sailor’s friend, a blue-tongued, foul-mouthed drunk who knows too much for her and Constable Harris’s good. Everything points to Farrell’s, and Phrynne is in the middle of it all.

A very colorful cast of characters creates the backdrop for Kerry Greenwood’s latest Phrynne Fisher mystery, Blood and Circuses. But there is more than color to this captivating trek into the heart of sawdust and dreams. Greenwood’s heroine sheds her ideas of spangles and fantasy and becomes a part of the hard work and dirt of the circus. It is a tale of murder and intrigue that also offers an intimate glimpse of raw romance. The setting of 1928 Melbourne does little to date the appeal of Greenwood’s latest mystery. Blood and Circuses is 25% mystery and 100% splendid.

Maintaining balance between two rings of action, Greenwood paints the sinister authenticity of Melbourne’s underworld and the earthy magical appeal of the circus and its dark underbelly in bold, bright strokes. Surprising from beginning to end and rife with fascinating social commentary, Blood and Circuses is a sterling introduction to Phrynne Fisher that whets the appetite for much more.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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