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The Castlemaine Murders: A Phryne Fisher Mystery    by Kerry Greenwood order for
Castlemaine Murders
by Kerry Greenwood
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Nina de Angeli

Phryne Fisher, amateur sleuth and free-spirited British heiress, lights up this tale of 1920s Australia with her witty repartée and daring, glamorous lifestyle. Phryne plunges into a mystery from Australia's wild past when she discovers a mummified murder victim in the dark and dusty ghost train ride of a local amusement park. Because she found the body, Phryne's constabulary friends invite her to the autopsy.

Who was the victim and how did the corpse land in Luna Park? From an old newspaper stuffed into the body, published in the gold mining town of Castlemaine, they discover a probable death date of 1857. Meanwhile, Phyrne's married Chinese lover Lin Chung finds that new responsibility for managing his family's extensive and varied businesses will take him to Castlemaine to search for a gold hoard stolen from the Lins during an anti-Chinese miners' riot, also in 1857!

Phryne decides to follow him and pursue her investigation there. She leaves behind in her Melbourne suburb a turbulent household of two lively adopted daughters and her Fabian socialist sister Eliza, banished from England in disgrace and pursued by a menacing unwanted suitor. Lin assigns his body guard, a Shaolin monk, to help Phryne's staff protect the home front.

The parallel plot of Lin Chung's family history and their century-old feud with another merchant clan gives us a well-researched and fascinating glimpse into the struggles and triumphs of nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants to Australia. In a breezy style suggesting a racier version of Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence mysteries, Greenwood serves up a frothy cocktail of silk stocking whodunit and Australian history. Delicious.

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