It’s Christmas, and Phryne has an invitation to the Last Best party of 1928, a four-day extravaganza being held at Werribee Manor house and grounds by the Golden Twins, Isabella and Gerald Templar. She knew them in Paris, where they caused a sensation. Phryne is in two minds about going. But when threats begin arriving in the mail, she promptly decides to accept the invitation. No one tells Phryne Fisher what to do. At the Manor House, she is accommodated in the Iris room, and at the party dallies with two polo-playing women, a Goat lady (and goat), a large number of glamorous young men, and a very rude child called Tarquin. The acolytes of the golden twins are smoking hashish and dreaming. The jazz is as hot as the drinks are cold. Heaven. It all seems like good clean fun until three people are kidnapped, one of them the abominable child, and Phryne must puzzle her way through the cryptic clues of the scavenger hunt to retrieve the hostages and save the party from further disaster.
About the Author
Kerry Greenwood is the author of more than 40 novels and six non-fiction books. Among her many honors, Ms. Greenwood has received the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers’ Association of Australia. When she is not writing she is an advocate in Magistrates’ Courts for the Legal Aid Commission. She is not married, has no children and lives with a registered Wizard.
Read an Excerpt
Murder in the Dark
A Phryne Fisher Mystery
By Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2006 Kerry Greenwood
All rights reserved.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la la la la la,
Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Monday, 24th December 1928
Very few people turned Phryne Fisher down. She wasn't used to it. With her looks, which were those of the cinema star Louise Brooks, her wealth, which was that of Croesus, her élan, which was remarkable, and her appetites, which were reputed to be those of an unusually broadminded nymph, she didn't hear 'No' a lot. Mostly people said nothing but a correctly phrased 'Yes, please.' It was therefore with some astonishment that she realised her beloved Lin Chung was, indeed, turning her down as flat as the linenfold panelling of her boudoir.
'No,' he said patiently. 'I really can't, Phryne.'
'Can't?' she asked, rolling over with a flash of thighs and sitting up to consider his strange, uncooperative attitude. 'Or won't?'
'Both, really.' Lin Chung buttoned his loose blue shirt over his admirably smooth torso. 'I have to preside over my old Great Great Uncle's funeral. I liked him, Phryne. He was a brave old man. I would not skimp on his ceremonies. Grandmamma is ill. Camellia needs my presence. I cannot justify neglecting the venerable dead and taking a week off from my business in order to play cowboys and Indians in Werribee with the Templars, Phryne.'
'Aha,' she said, observing him closely. 'You don't like them, do you?'
Lin shrugged his collar around his neck and stabbed the fastening closed. He reached for his light blazer.
'No, I do not like them. I do not approve of them, either. Those bright young things burn far too bright for me.'
'There's something behind this attitude,' she commented, dragging a dressing gown on and belting it tightly.
'Probably. I am influenced by a number of things,' admitted Lin. 'But the conclusion of it is, I cannot accompany you to the Last Best Party of 1928, and I hope you are not too grievously disappointed.'
'Surprised more than disappointed,' she said. 'You won't change your mind?'
'I regret,' he said, giving her that sidelong glance which she thought of as quintessentially Chinese.
'Then I shall find my own company,' she declared.
'As you wish,' he agreed.
The boudoir was silent for a moment, as Ember the cat arose from his silken nest and paused at the closed door, mouth open in a plaintive but entirely unvoiced meow. Phryne jumped up and let him out.
'A drink,' she said, and escorted her lover onto the landing.
The bijou residence of the Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher, located in the desirable if a little scruffy suburb of St. Kilda in the town of Melbourne, was home to the said Miss Fisher, her maid and constant companion Miss Dorothy Williams, her adopted daughters Jane and Ruth, home from school for the holidays, her cat Ember, the girls' dog Molly, a shrill but persistent canary which Dot was minding while her sister was making other arrangements for it, and Mr. and Mrs. Butler, the bulwarks of the establishment. Phryne had secured their services by offering a very good salary with very good conditions and never interfering in the manner in which they ran the house. Mr. Butler buttled, orchestrated cocktails which would have made him a deity in any alcohol based religion and drove the Hispano-Suiza whenever Phryne would let him. Mrs. Butler cooked and kept the house. Other functionaries came in by the day to dust and polish, and the laundry, of course, went to the Chinese, who understood about starch and never lost so much as a pillowcase.
One of the perks of the Fisher household was that apart from their own bedroom and parlour, Mr. Butler had a small cubbyhole called a butler's pantry in which to entertain his own intimates. It was just big enough for a sink and the tasting glasses, a couple of chairs and a window that looked out into the fernery, which was full of orchids. The window was open. A scent of jasmine floated in. The afternoon was at three, the port was remarkably fragrant, and Mr. Butler was content with the world. Especially since Dot had volunteered to do the refreshments should Phryne decide that she wanted any. A jug of Pimm's Number One Cup was already mixed and in the new, huge, American Ice-maker and Refrigerator.
Mr. Butler filled his guest's glass and said comfortingly, 'Don't take on so, Tom.'
'Oh, it's all very well for you,' said Tom Ventura, pettishly. 'You and your Miss Fisher and your cellar full of port. You're comfortable enough, I dare say. You don't have a house party which is going to take as much organising as a small war only half done and you, and I say this for your ears only, Tobias, you don't have an employer who's half off his head all the time. And her head. They're both bloody mad.'
'My Miss Fisher can be a bit excitable,' said Mr. Butler judiciously. 'But she's very reasonable.'
'Not so the Templars,' groaned Mr. Ventura.
'They can't be that bad,' soothed Mr. Butler. His guest choked on the good port and would have leapt up, eyes flaming, if he had not been so tired. Besides, the dog Molly was asleep on his feet. Mr. Ventura liked dogs. His voice, however, rose to a cracked shriek.
'Eleven times the whole plan has been changed! Eleven! Each time I have had to recalculate all the accommodations, the staff, the hampers, the amounts of drink and food, the timing of deliveries—the difficulties would make a devil weep!' 'Now, now, Tom, where are those drops the doctor gave you? Here,' said Mr. Butler, sloshing some into a clean glass and adding water. 'Take these and just sit quiet for a little. I didn't mean to upset you.'
Molly rose from her couch and licked Mr. Ventura's hand. She was a compassionate dog and, besides, she loved the taste of valerian. Mrs. Butler opened the door and offered a small tray on which a coffee pot reposed. Mr. Butler took it. Amazing woman, his Aurelia. Always understood what was going on.
He poured a demitasse for Mr. Ventura and observed, 'I know that my Miss Fisher is going to your party, Tom. And I know that your twins—the Golden Twins, the paper called them—your Gerald and Isabella Templar have hired the old Chirnside place at Werribee from the Catholics for this house party. Called the Last Best Party of 1928, reputed to be costing a fortune, and all the guests to be housed in tents on the grounds for the whole five days, full of fun and sensation and the Lord knows what goings-on. Not like my Miss Fisher to stay in a tent,' mused the butler, taking another sip of port and observing that his guest seemed to be recovering. 'And I know that the weather is going to be hot and the police have been taking a dim view.'
'Then,' said Tom Ventura, 'you know a lot. I've been chasing down ice-making machines for the Palace of Glass all day. Do you know how many ice-making machines you need for that much ice? It's like staging the Great Exhibition. And I don't think I'm going to get a knighthood out of it, I really don't.' He contemplated the dregs in his coffee cup. Mr. Butler refilled it. 'And just as likely when I get back he'll say he's changed his mind and we don't need the Palace of Glass anyway—or not where I've put it—and perhaps we could have a Gothic castle instead. Then she'll egg him on and ... I don't know how long I can stand this,' he said plaintively.
'Why did you take them on?' asked Mr. Butler, a little censoriously. He had conducted careful enquiries into the character of Miss Fisher before he accepted a place in her household.
'Oh, I thought they would be exciting,' said Tom Ventura, patting Molly. 'I was bored. I remember being bored,' he added. 'It was nice. I didn't appreciate it at the time.'
The bell rang. Mr. Butler heard Dot get up from her seat at the kitchen table, where she and Mrs. Butler had been amiably shelling one hundred chestnuts for stuffing the Christmas goose. Removing two strongly adherent shells from the annoying nuts was a job best done in company. He heard Dot say, as she laid her chestnut down with a click, 'That's ninety-three, Mrs. Butler.'
In her parlour, Phryne noted the approach of the jug of Pimm's Number One Cup, with its slices of cucumber and sprigs of mint, with pleasure. She liked the burned-sugar flavour of the gin-based cup, but required it to be double-diluted and the glass jug packed with ice, preferably rasped. This jug was so cold that it was breathing little chilly clouds into the tepid air.
'Mr. Butler still in conclave?' she asked. Dot nodded, put down her plate of cheese straws and poured out two glasses of Pimm's.
'That poor man is having a terrible time with those Templars,' she commented. 'But me and Mrs. B have almost finished the chestnuts. Are you sure you can manage tomorrow, Miss?' she asked. Dot yielded to no one in her opinion of her employer's daring and courage, but took a very poor view of her domestic talents, which even Phryne admitted were negligible.
'My sister Eliza and her friend Lady Alice Harborough will manage. They used to run soup kitchens for the poor and apparently they are managing very well in that nice little house Bert found for them. Eliza has been having cooking lessons and they have bought their very own copy of Mrs. Beeton,' Phryne replied, sipping with delight. 'Perfectly freezing! This new ice refrigeration machine was a good investment. Won't you have a glass, Dot dear?'
'Too cold for me,' said Dot. 'Makes my teeth ache. Miss? I really don't like you being without me and the Butlers for so long.'
'Nonsense,' said Phryne bracingly. 'You will like seeing all your relatives, the Butlers want to see their married daughter's new child, and all I have to do is go to church and supervise the lunch—and if all goes totally disastrous there is a nice collection of canned things and plenty to drink. My sister and the girls and I are old campaigners, Dot dear; unless we burn down the house I don't see how it can go very wrong. Just pack up your hampers. Don't forget the sweets and the crackers and the crystallised fruits and the chocolates and Mrs. B's mince pies, and I've put out a bottle or two of the good port for your father. He'll probably get a case of the old Fisher gout, but we can't have everything.'
Dot was a plain young woman with a long brown plait, coiled into a bun at the back of her neck. She always dressed in earth colours. Even her apron was beige. She had a fresh complexion and very kind eyes, but no one would have called her beautiful until they saw her smile, and she smiled now, dazzling Lin Chung. Dot was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude and Christmas spirit. She leaned down and kissed Phryne's blooming cheek, and then hurried herself back to the chestnuts. Miss Fisher might hand over this gem of a goose to her sister's uncertain handling and it might turn out tough, but it would not lack its purée de marrons if Dot had anything to do with it.
'She seems happy,' commented Lin Chung, sipping his drink and freezing his tongue. Miss Fisher, his concubine, did tend to extremes. Her chosen vindaloo made him weep and gulp from the water jug and this drink was colder than the Nether Hells. But he liked her extremes, so he set the glass down to melt.
'Dot has a talent for being happy,' said Phryne, refilling her glass.
'So, how are the preparations for Christmas coming along?' he asked easily.
'Without undue difficulty. All the presents are assembled, the crackers ready, the menu planned, the food bought. The girls are in their room working on the finishing touches to their presents, I believe, at this moment. Dot has bought a sack of gifts for her own family. It's my first Christmas here. It really doesn't seem right, the sun shining and the birds singing at Christmas, which is in the heart of winter at home. Still, we can walk to midnight mass without slipping on the ice on the way. And I can leave the atheists here to mind the stove while I go to a nice, rousing, Christmas carol service in the morning.'
'Sounds very pleasant,' said Lin, unwisely relaxing.
'And what did the Templars do to you?' she asked.
'Their hearties played a game of "fling the Chinaman" with my young cousin. Very amusing, no doubt, but they might have ascertained if he could swim before they threw him into the Thames. They stood on the bank and watched him struggle, and they laughed. A boatman and I managed to drag him out before he actually succumbed to the water and the cold.'
'How horrible,' said Phryne, without emphasis, watching him closely.
'So I owe the Templars—oh, undying loathing, and they owe me two rather good tailored suits. Not to mention spending a week talking my cousin out of quitting university and going to be a monk.'
'How did you talk him out of it?'
'I turned him over to Li Pen and told him to keep the boy to his own spare vegetarian diet and to make him do martial arts exercises all day. After a week, he confessed that he preferred the fleshpots and went back to university. He is a very good doctor. It would have been a pity to waste him.'
Lin took a gulp of his drink and gasped. All of his teeth shrieked for mercy.
'Detestable,' said Phryne. 'But they throw a wonderful party.'
'Yes, and I don't mind you going to it—much,' said Lin honestly. 'But I really can't do it myself. Every time I see that Gerald's golden laughing face I get an irresistible urge to hit it with a brick.'
'Understood,' said Phryne.
They imbibed gently for a while.
The afternoon post was carried in by Jane and Ruth, who were allowed a sip of Mr. Lin's drink as a reward. While investigating a gruesome murder on the Ballarat train, Phryne had acquired the pale, studious Jane, whose destiny was to be a doctor, provided someone made her catch the right tram and turn up to her exams and meals on time. This person was Ruth, darker and plumper, who had been rescued from grim domestic slavery by Phryne's commie mates Bert and Cec and who could not be left behind. Phryne had never meant to have daughters but found them interesting and rewarding. Jane was sucking her finger.
'Sewing wounds?' asked Phryne, sympathetically.
'Yes, but it's all done now,' said Jane. 'What a lot of cards! Can I open some?'
'By all means, here is the letter knife. Make sure that you keep the envelopes together until we can list who sent them. Lin will help,' said Phryne, volunteering him heartlessly.
Ruth, whose interests were culinary, had slipped away to the kitchen to watch Mrs. Butler stuff the goose. She had seen chickens, pigeons, quail, pheasant, spatchcock, duck and turkey stuffed, but never goose. It might prove different and Mrs. Butler's accompanying lecture was always worth hearing.
Mr. Butler was showing his companion out as Ruth came into the kitchen.
'It will be all right on the night, you'll see,' he murmured soothingly.
Mr. Ventura laughed bitterly. Ruth gave him a sympathetic smile and he patted her on the head in passing. She did not like being patted on the head, but if it made this harassed man feel better she was willing to put up with it. Tom Ventura had been a frequent visitor over the last week and Ruth was sorry for him.
'Hello, little Miss Ruth,' he said. 'You still want to be a cook?'
'Yes, sir,' she said.
'Stick with it,' he advised, and went on into the hall.
'Ah, Ruth, catch hold of this wing, will you?' said Mrs. Butler.
'We need to truss it close, or all the stuffing will burst out.'
They struggled with the anointed, slippery, dead bird for a moment, before Mrs. Butler flipped it onto its back and subdued any possibility of escape by looping string around both wings and securing it with a parcel knot. 'Good,' she said, pushing forward a bowl of a palish brown substance. 'Have a morsel. That's purée de marrons, it's taken Dot and me all morning to peel the dratted things, but it tastes good, eh?'
Excerpted from Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood. Copyright © 2006 Kerry Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Australia liberated Phryne Fisher enjoys Christmas 1928 with her significant other Lin Chung and her family. Scandalous acquaintances from Paris, the Golden Twins Isabella and Gerald Templar, have invited her to the Last Best party of 1928, a four-day affair at Werribee Manor house.
Phryne considers declining the invitation until she receives letters and a Christmas present containing a poisonous snake in the post that threaten her if she attends. No one scares Phryne away so she goes to the gala. At the party, hashish and alcohol flow freely and she meets an odd collection of people including a bad-mannered child Tarquin who soon afterward vanishes without a trace. Two more people disappear with puzzle clues left behind. As Phryne and Nicholas Booth, who she has just met and believes is an undercover cop, investigates, she realizes someone has been hired to assassinate the sibling hosts.
No one messes with kick butt Phryne whether it is threatening her by post, behaving boorishly towards her at a party, or committing murder. She is at her best in this pre-Depression Era Australian whodunit as her sleuthing partner Nicholas brings out her strengths. The mystery is cleverly devised with solid twists and the roaring cast fits the decadent 1920s. Fans will enjoy Phryne¿s latest caper as once again Kerry Greenwood provides her readers with a deep look at a bygone era Down Under inside of a rousing investigative thriller.
Murder in the Dark is the sixteenth book in the popular Phryne Fisher series by Australian author Kerry Greenwood. It is the end of the year, and Phryne, somewhat reluctantly, accepts an invitation to attend the Last Best Party of 1928, spurred on to do so when several anonymous communications warn her against it. Held at Werribee in the Chirnside Manor, this six-day party is being thrown by the beautiful and charismatic Gerald Templar and his equally beautiful twin sister, Isabella, lately arrived from London via Paris. The Templars have brought with them their acolytes, including, among others, the Wildean Sylvanus Leigh and the Sapphic girls from Montparnasse. Amid the two hundred guests are the polo-playing Grammar Boys and Wonnangatta Tigers, a jazz trio, Arabian, Japanese and medieval musicians, the delectable Nicholas Booth (whom Phryne deems fit to dally with in Lin Chung’s absence), Madge, the Goat lady and her mint-addicted goat, a scowling orphan named Tarquin and Blues singer Nerine. The Last Best Party includes themed dinners, hamper lunches, a polo match, a deer hunt, trap shooting, poetry recitals, parlour games, a Bal Masqué, a jazz concert, plenty of drinking, eating and hashish, and certain other decadent activities. Upon arrival, Phryne finds her invitation has more than just a social aspect, as Gerald Templar has been receiving death threats and pleads for her assistance. Soon enough, young Tarquin goes missing, riddles begin appearing and Phryne finds she is trying to trap a contract killer. Stabbing, mass poisoning, kidnapping, ground glass in cold cream, a ransom note, and a coral snake in a gift box all feature. Motives of revenge, jealousy, hatred and greed propel several different offenders. As well as quotes from classic poems and plays, and recipes for delicious cocktails, the reader tastes Christmas in the Fisher household and chez Williams, Butler, Yates and Johnson. Phryne goes undercover as a housemaid, wins a bet using a bunch of mint, remembers a few things her detested father was right about, attempts some rhyme and asks the all-important question: just how much cream can one cat hold? Delightful mystery, as always.
Love all these Miss Fisher stories
This book was so entrancing that I immediately read it a second time.
Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood is sixteenth book in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. It is Christmastime much to Jane and Ruth’s delight. The Butler’s, Dot, Bert, and Cec will be spending Christmas Day with their families. Phryne’s sister, Eliza and her companion will be spending the day with Phryne and the girls. Phryne has received an invitation to Gerald and Isabella Templar’s The Last Best Party of 1928. After receiving a threatening Christmas card warning her off from the party, Phryne decides to attend. The next day the family is opening gifts and there is one last gift for Phryne that had been left on the front porch. There is a lovely cuff inside with a venomous snake wrapped around it. Thankfully, Ember (the cat) kills the slimy creature before it can harm anyone. Phryne is dropped off at the party, and she sets out to explore. It is a massive affair that will last from December 27 through January 1 with costumed events each evening along with music (Nerine is with us once again), polo matches, cocktails and other recreational (lascivious) activities. Gerald requests to speak with Phryne privately. He has been receiving threatening letters and needs her assistance discovering this perpetrator’s identity. Later Phryne discovers that Gerald and Isabella adopted children and Isabella’s adoptive daughter, Marigold has disappeared. It is assumed that she ran away. But one evening, Tarquin, Gerald’s adoptive son, goes for drinks and disappears. Phryne investigates and finds that Tarquin has been taken. But, the evildoer has left a riddle behind on a luggage tag. Phryne must unravel each riddle in this scavenger hunt to find the next clue. Will Phryne get to the end in time to save the victims? Murder in the Dark is set at Christmas. We are told that it is Phryne’s first Christmas in Australia. Then everything that has transpired in the first fifteen books has occurred in less than twelve months. Does anyone else find this a little odd? I did like that we caught a glimpse into the lives of Bert, Cec, Dot, and the Butler’s away from Miss Fisher’s household. The party is an over-the-top affair with many varied activities. Readers need to remember that the story is set in 1928 when recreational drugs flowed freely and were not illegal. The mystery was complex, and I do not believe many readers will figure out the whole solution (I am being cryptic on purpose). I particularly enjoyed the riddles. They were fun to decipher. I give Murder in the Dark 3 out of 5 stars. I did feel that the book was a slightly too long. The book needed more focus and editing (it would have certainly helped with the books slow pacing). Kerry Greenwood was rather wordy. We are given descriptions of the clothes, food, costumes, house, grounds, tents, games, erotic scenes and so on. Several recitations and songs are also included in the story (I skimmed through them). I wish there had been less focus on the party with its varied activities. Since Murder in the Dark was a Christmas novel, I would have liked it to be more Christmas themed (instead of a hedonistic party). I did find the solution to the twin’s financial woes to be creative but unrealistic (might have been some eye rolling). I did like the afterward included by the author.
Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood Phryne Fisher, so brave, clever, loyal, and kind to those in need, faces heat, mosquitos, and riddling assassins at the Last Best party of 1928. It’s New Year’s but also Midsummer, with echoes of Midsummer Night’s Dream’s feuding king and queen and missing servant boy and girl. Bits of wisdom: The Chinese don’t serve dessert, feeling sweets are for children, and “It is necessary for the child to know that the monster is dead.” (reminder to me and all storytellers that the ending of a scary story for children has to be “and no one ever saw that . . . again.” Bring them home safely). I couldn’t stop reading, but now I’m sad it’s finished, and eagerly anticipate the next.
The stories themselves are excellent; however, the shoddy editing and formatting of the NOOK ebooks make the later books very difficult to read. The first several were fine, but the further along in the series (and unfortunately, I have all 20 ebooks) one goes, the sloppier it gets (did not one check the electronic files at all?). Pages are missing, navigation is well-nigh impossible, and at this point, if I want to actually read all of the books in their entirety, I think I'll give in and get the dead tree versions - from Amazon.
A small white cat slowly pads along the border, taking in its many scents after coming from the AshClan territory. Wandering around for a bit, her scent unrecognizable even though she came from AshClan territory, she walked on, finding the scent markers along the way and where to head next. Slowly she padded to SandClan, away from whatever sounds she heard at the opposite side of the border from where she had started. Rubbing against a tree to leave the scent for them to find, she continued onward to the next Clan's border. ~A white cat &hearts
She followed, picking up Bluekit. ((We pretty much lost everyone...
To northclan camp cuz we have to pass through there! Its at 'heaven coelestia' )) he mewed, "Ashclan lets go!" <p> Flameclaw picked up rockkit and followed Stormflower <p> Fawnstep guided Cloudbeauty
He nodded ro Thistlepaw, agnowledging (fail) her presence. (Okay. And jsyk, Thrushpaw wasn't told to come on the border patrol.)
He sniffed the border. "Smells faintly of cats. Seems like a loner."
I love the way Kerry Greenwood's lead characters celebrate being human and retain so many heroic qualities. There is a lot going on in this story. You better check it out and see for yourself.