Review: DEAD MAN’S CHEST by Kerry Greenwood

In the 18th instalment of the Phryne (pronounced Fry-knee) Fisher series set in 1920’s Australia, Phryne and her entourage have left Melbourne for a summer holiday in the seaside town of Queenscliff. They are to occupy the home of an anthropologist acquaintance of Phryne’s but when they arrive they find the Johnstons, a servant couple who were to look after the holidaymakers, appear to have left in a hurry and taken all the supplies with them. As well as being wealthy enough to get herself out of most pickles the Right Honourable Phryne is both unflappable and resourceful so soon has the house running smoothly with the help of her extended family. Practicalities dealt with Phryne and company turn to considerations of the Johnston’s disappearance and the alarming matter that has occupied the town’s gossips: who is cutting of the plaits of all the young ladies?

DEAD MAN’S CHEST provides that all too rare phenomenon: an intelligent cosy mystery with the bonus of a sense of humour and set against the backdrop of the roaring twenties. Phryne is the kind of very strong female character who you’ll either love or hate and she has grown on me over time. She is beautiful, rich and intelligent (which could get annoying after a while) but is also a fiercely loyal friend and is far more impressed by a person’s abilities and character than she is their social status. She is also not one to stand idly by when she sees an injustice or other wrong-doing being committed: a trait the world is surely crying out for. She has two adopted daughters who have both been rescued from some form of poverty or danger and during the course of the novel acquires another young charge, a boy named Tinker who starts out as a kitchen-hand but soon becomes integral to Phryne’s crime solving. There are a plethora of other characters to enjoy, both nice and not, but my favourites were a crowd of surrealists who provided just the right smidgen of bizarre that most books could benefit from.

Although fairly easy to follow, as befits a cosy mystery, the plot here has plenty to keep the reader’s attention and there’s a nice balance of background historical detail and plot advancement throughout the story. There’s a film about a local treasure myth being shot in the town which provides for a lot of the action and there are many social gatherings (always accompanied by lashings of marvellously described food) and little adventures to maintain interest. Although this is a long series you could easily start with this book, particularly as it involves only the core group of Phryne’s retinue as she’s not in her usual Melbourne haunts. I have only read a couple of the very early books in this series but I had no trouble picking things up as I went.

Stephanie Daniel’s narration of this novel is outstanding, providing a myriad of accents and voices for the rather large cast of characters but never feeling like it is a forced performance. It has been a long time since I acquainted myself with Phryne Fisher and her extended family and I found myself pleasantly surprised with the meeting. It feels like Greenwood has put just as much work into this instalment as she would have done her first (not something that can be said about all authors with long-running series) and the characters were fresh and interesting. Highly recommended to fans of light historical or cosy mysteries, or those wondering if they should give one a go.

Kerrie has already provided her thoughts on DEAD MAN’S CHEST.

In news for Phryne fans, she is due to hit the small screen next year.

My rating: 3.5/5
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel
Publisher: Bolinda audio [2010]
ISBN: N/A downloaded from
Length: 8 hours, 31 minutes
Format: mp3
Source: I bought it

10 thoughts on “Review: DEAD MAN’S CHEST by Kerry Greenwood

  1. You put that quite well! An intelligent cosy can be a terrific find. Of course, I’m biased about liking this series because I like Kerry Greenwood very much. But still, you’re right that it’s got the elements of an excellent series.


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