Murder on a Midsummer Night
Review: Phryne Fisher mysteries are typically less about mystery and more about, well, Phyrne herself. Fans of the series are likely to be more interested in Phyrne's lifestyle and her household than her profession, but after 16 novels there's not much new to learn about her character. That's why it's so refreshing that she has not one, but two interesting cases to investigate in Murder on a Midsummer Night, the 17th mystery in this series that began in 1989. There's still plenty of Phyrne to fill the pages, but the appeal here is in the mysterious circumstances of a young man's death and, separately, the whereabouts of a long lost child.
The first case is one of Augustine Manifold, a dealer of antiques and trinkets, who is found drowned, an apparent suicide. The police are satisfied that he took his own life, but his mother is not. She hires Phyrne to find out who murdered her son, and why. According to his friends, Manifold was excited about the future, one in which he believed would soon provide financial security for him and his mother for the rest of their days. Phyrne suspects this "future" may have contributed to his death, which she quickly ascertains, and proves, is murder.
The second case is one of an inheritance. A wealthy woman has died, leaving her estate to her children, the "issue of her body". There is reason to believe that she may have had a child before the marriage that produced the four known adult children, who now stand to inherit. The family's solicitor requests Phyrne look into it. It's a sensitive matter, the family being Catholic, but Phyrne is known for her discretion in such matters.
Phyrne's investigation of both cases is well-paced, with possibly a bit more backstory to the murder than the missing child, and in the author's usual manner, the clues to their solution are buried within the narrative, the quotes that precede every chapter and postscripts that end each chapter. Phyrne feels a sense of accomplishment at the conclusion of her investigations and the reader will as well, as Murder on a Midsummer Night is among the best of the series to date.
One historical note: The book takes place in 1929 Melbourne. The author is meticulous in her research of the period and place, and provides an extensive bibliography at the end of her novels. Early in this book, however, Phyrne refers to Augustine Manifold as a "friend of Dorothy." The expression, used as a euphemism to describe a gay man when it was generally unacceptable to do so, is widely believed to have originated with the film The Wizard of Oz (1939), though some believe the "Dorothy" may refer to Dorothy Parker, a prominent writer and poet, whose politically active life began in the late 1920s. Still, the earliest known references to "friend of Dorothy" seem to be the 1930s. Phyne Fisher, cosmopolitan woman that she is, would certainly be aware of people and events taking place in the most important cities of the time (London, Paris, New York). And wouldn't it be fascinating to consider that Phyrne may have actually coined the phrase in 1929, years before it came into popular use elsewhere in the world?
Acknowledgment: Poisoned Pen Press provided an ARC of Murder on a Midsummer Night for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover), May 2009
ISBN-13: 9781590584286; ISBN-10: 1590584287
Trick or Treat
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover), October 2009
ISBN-13: 9781590585320; ISBN-10: 1590585321
Location(s) referenced in Murder on a Midsummer Night: Melbourne, Australia
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Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry Greenwood — A Phryne Fisher Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: July 2009
List Price: $24.95