Death In Daylesford Review: Another Inventive 1920s Crime Caper

Since the announcement that Kerry Greenwood was writing another of her excellent novels about the flapper turned sleuth Miss Fisher and her merry band of misfits, I’ve been excited to read it. It took some time for Death In Daylseford to be published in the UK, where I live, but now it’s here I’m really pleased that it is.

I’ve been a massive fan of Kerry Greenwood and her amazing Miss Phryne Fisher novels for a long time now. There are over 20 books in the series, which has been turned into a successful TV series and also a film. The series is progressive and gives great visibility to many often-overlooked communities, such as LGBTQIA+, Asian and indigenous Australian individuals.

The book begins with Miss Fisher and her faithful companion Dot embarking on a holiday. They’ve been invited to a spa that’s designed to support wounded veterans and help them to recuperate safely and properly. It seems like a great opportunity for the pair to relax and unwind, but as ever, trouble isn’t far behind.

In fact, it’s actually ahead of them: as soon as the intrepid duo arrives they’re informed of mysterious disappearances of women around the town, as well as a young child who went missing alongside his mother. These mysteries soon pale in comparison to the murderous intent of one of the villagers, who uses ingenious methods to murder an individual, seemingly at random, during a Highland Games event.

The disappearances continue, and soon Miss Fisher and Dot find themselves tangled in a potentially deadly web, with many different strands and a list of suspects a mile long. Many of the townsfolk are acting suspiciously and have secrets that they’d rather keep hidden, so the pair has a lot of sleuthing to do and not a lot of time. The killer keeps going, leaving our intrepid duo to unravel the threads of this tangled web and uncover the truth in the lead-up to another event that could spell yet more murder.

Meanwhile, in her Melbourne home, Sergeant Hugh Collins is staying over while his own home is being renovated. Just as he moves into his temporary home, his boss, DI Jack Robinson, is moved onto a new taskforce to help take down one of the city’s most renowned criminals, known as Barry The Shark. The Shark is well connected in the criminal underworld, and most of those who oppose him end up either being dismissed on fake corruption charges or, worse, dead in the river.

With Collins now under the temporary leadership of a deeply incompetent acting detective inspector, he’s given a new case that links him to Miss Fisher’s household. Tinker, her adoptive son, finds a body floating in the river while he’s out fishing with Miss Fisher’s communist wharfie friends, Bert and Cec. The body is of a young woman who went to school with Miss Fisher’s adoptive daughters, Ruth and Janie.

Both girls were fond of the murdered girl, so they’re determined to uncover the truth. When Tinker thinks that the killer could be one of the boys at his school, the group hatches a plan to ensure that the rightful killer is unmasked and that an innocent man isn’t convicted by the spineless and lazy acting Detective Inspector.

While the plot might start slowly, it evolves into multiple mysteries that both Miss Fisher and her Melbourne cohort have to unravel. The information is slow in coming, but once it does, the reader quickly becomes invested in the outcome and eager to find out more about the various characters and their murky backgrounds.

Almost every character from the series is involved in the story in some small way. Miss Fisher’s long-term lover meets with her at the beginning of the story. Bert and Cec appear at the beginning only briefly, and Mr and Mrs Butler also dip in and out of the novel. However, none of these characters are actually essential to the plot, so Greenwood quickly moves on from them, making them feel a little shoe-horned into the book. Jack Robinson and his taskforce are only mentioned at the beginning and the end of the novel, which is a shame as it sounds like it could’ve made for an interesting addition to the tale.

It might’ve been better for the author to focus on fewer characters, and not slot the rest in. This would have allowed the reader to see more of the important individuals who drove the plot forward, rather than getting a little of everyone, but as a fan of the series it is good to see them appear, however briefly. Clearly Greenwood is focusing on giving fans of the TV show what they want, but it might be at the expense of the book itself. One minor inconstancy I found is that Ember, Miss Fisher’s cat, becomes female, where previously he had been male. It’s a small thing, but it bugged me more than it probably should have done.

However, for the most part Death In Daylesford is a triumph that’s easy and fun to read, making it ideal for summer. It’s a unique cosy crime novel with a truly ingenious ending that even the Queen Of Crime herself, Agatha Christie, would’ve been impressed by. Everything ties up nicely in the end- if it were a modern book, then it would almost be too perfect, but cosy crime novels rely on this slightly unbelievable style of ending, making this a perfect example of the genre.

Ultimately, I feel the same about Death In Daylesford the same way I do about the full-length film Miss Fisher And The Crypt Of Tears. It’s a great read, but I wouldn’t let it be your initial introduction to the series. Start at the beginning, or go in with a amazing book like Dead Man’s Chest. This book is an intriguing and interesting addition to the series, but it doesn’t show Greenwood’s skills at their fullest. So, in all, if you’re looking for a nice summer read, then a cosy crime fiction book like Death In Daylesford could be the ideal choice for you, but if you’re new to the series, start somewhere else.

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