Cocaine Blues (novel)
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|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|ISBN||0-86914-172-4 McPhee Gribble
0-449-14733-9 Fawcett Publications
|Followed by||Flying Too High|
Cocaine Blues is a crime novel by Kerry Greenwood, first published in Australia in 1989 by McPhee Gribble and in the United States in 1991 under the title of Death By Misadventure by Fawcett Publications. It is the first novel featuring Phryne Fisher.
After the Honourable Phryne Fisher solves a country-house jewel robbery in record time, she is asked by Colonel and Mrs. Andrews to look into the matter of their daughter in Australia, who they fear may be being poisoned by her husband. Having grown bored with English social life, Phryne is happy to have an excuse to put off making decisions about her future for the next few months or so, and promptly relocates to Melbourne.
Cocaine Blues opens with a theft at the country house belonging to Phryne Fisher's family, during a a dinner party described as the 'social event of the year'. A valuable diamond necklace belonging to a guest is stolen, and Phryne is able to identify the thief and recover the necklace based on her observations of the room, and of the guests during dinner., as a young cricket-playing gentleman named Bobby Matthews. Following this, Phryne is asked by some other guests present that evening; Colonel Harper and his wife, Mrs. Harper, to travel to Australia and investigate their suspicions that their son in law, John Andrews, is poisoning their daughter, Lydia Andrews. Phryne is given some letters from Lydia Andrews to her parents to read, and she notes that Lydia Andrews intersperses her complaints with her husband with financial and investment advice to her parents. She also notes a reference to a Turkish bath run by a Madame Breda.
Phryne accepts the Harpers' request and travels to Melbourne, Australia, which is also the place of her birth. She is joined on the voyage by Dr. Elizabeth Macmillan, a surgeon on her way to take up a position at the Queen Victoria Hospital for women, and an old acquaintance of Phryne's from her time serving as the driver of an ambulance unit in France during World War I. In Melbourne, Phryne meets Cec and Bert, two cab drivers, at the docks, and engage them to drive her to the Windsor Hotel, where she stays for the duration of the novel. Soon after her arrival, Phryne meets Dorothy 'Dot' Williams while on a walk, and prevents her from committing an assault on her ex-employer's son, who had molested her and had her fired when she rebuffed his advances. Phryne engages Dot to work as her personal maid and social secretary instead.
Once in Melbourne, Phryne visits a number of members of the local nobility, and manages to secure an invitation to a dinner party where she meets Lydia Andrews. She also meets at this dinner party Bobby Matthews, the thief she had exposed back in England, as well as a Russian countess who styles herself as Princess de Grasse and two Russian ballet dancing twins, Sasha De Lisse and his sister Ellie. It is later revealed to Phryne that De Lisses' mother was the Princess' daughter, and she died of cocaine addiction in Paris. The three have since dedicated themselves to finding and exposing cocaine traders. Phryne establishes a friendship with Lydia Andrews, despite disliking her clinging and apathetic behaviour and secures an invitation to Lydia Andrews' house for lunch. She also dances a tango with Sasha De Lisse and later rescues him from a couple of thugs after he attempts to independently track down the distributor of cocaine in Melbourne, a person known as the 'King of Snow'. Phryne tentatively agrees to collaborate with the Russians, despite some misgivings about their honesty and intentions.
Along with the Princess de Grasse, Phryne visits the Turkish Baths run by Madame Breda, that Lydia Andrews had mentioned in her letters to her parents. The Princess de Grasse tells Phryne that the baths are a distribution center for cocaine and they manage to purchase a small parcel of cocaine. Phryne dispatches this parcel to Dr. Macmillan at the hospital to be analysed, but finds that a similar parcel has been planted in room at the hotel. She dispatches the second parcel as well and replaces it with a decoy parcel of sodium bicarbonate. Later, when her hotel room is raided by Inspector Jack Robinson on the basis of an anonymous tip, she and the Inspector discover that a police constable Ellis had been blackmailed into planting another parcel of cocaine in her room. Dr. Macmillan confirms that one parcel contained cocaine, but that the other contained ordinary table salt. Following her lunch with Lydia Andrews, Phryne suspects she may have been poisoned but administers an emetic to herself and recovers in her hotel room. She later convinces Lydia Andrews' maid to secure nail and hair clippings from Lydia and has them analysed by Dr. Macmillan to show slow arsenic poisoning. On conversation with Bobby Matthews, and on the basis of overheard conversations with Lydia Andrews and her friends, she discovers that Lydia has a keen head for business while her husband does not.
Phryne then dresses up as a prostitute and accompanied by Bert, visits a local bar where she has heard cocaine is being distributed. They manage to locate the distributors after Sasha, unaware of Phryne's presence, gets into an altercation with them. Phryne follows the distributor and Sasha to the Turkish Baths, where they catch and confine both, Sasha and Phryne. Here Phryne's suspicions are confirmed when it is revealed that Lydia Andrews is the King of Snow and has been administering mild and non-fatal doses of arsenic to herself to redirect suspicion away from herself after her proposed poisoning of her husband. Lydia attempts to convince Phryne that she should join Lydia in the business, but Phryne and Sasha pretend to engage in sexual activities to take advantage of Lydia's distaste for any kind of sexual contact to distract her and disarm her. Meanwhile, Dot, Dr. Macmillan and a local MP are sent an indirect message by Phryne and they alert the police, allowing Inspector Robinson to arrest Lydia as well as the distributors. The book ends with a dinner party hosted by Phryne.
A sub-plot concerns the breaking of an illegal abortion racket. Early in the novel Burt and Cec are engaged by a mysterious man to drive a girl to her home, but on taking her in their cab, they discover she is injured and bleeding. Burt and Cec take the injured girl to Dr. Macmillan at her hospital, where it is revealed that her name is Alice Greenham and that she has suffered a botched abortion. Dr. Macmillan reports this incident to Inspector Jack Robinson at the Melbourne police station, who informs her that a disbarred doctor known as 'Butcher George' has been performing illegal abortions that frequently result in the deaths of his patients, however, without any surviving patient being unwilling to provide evidence, the police have been unable to catch him. Phryne, on hearing this from Dr. Macmillan, manages to track down Butcher George through one of Dot's friends, and helps set up a police operation that involves sending a Woman Police Constable in as a decoy to entrap Butcher George. The operation is successful and Butcher George is caught. Cec, who has been taking care of Alice Greenham, proposes marriage to her at the end of the story, but Alice asks him to ask her again in six months so that she has a chance to put her life in order again.
Characters in Cocaine Blues
- the Honourable Phryne Fisher
- Lydia Andrews, a well-off young married woman who falls ill whenever her husband is around
- John Andrews, a bully
- Butcher George, back-alley abortionist and rapist
- Alice Greenham, latest victim of Butcher George
- Bert (Albert Johnson), cabbie, friend of Cec, communist
- Dr. Elizabeth MacMillan, surgeon at the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women. Dr.
- the Honourable Bobby Matthews, an amateur cricketer
- Detective-Inspector Jack Robinson, Melbourne police
- Dorothy (Dot), hired by Phryne as confidential maid and social secretary
- Cec (Cecil Yates), friend of Bert and truck driver, soft-hearted and known for taking in strays of all kinds
- Sasha de Lisse a Russian Dancer that has a grudge against drug dealers.
Cocaine Blues, as well as other novels featuring Phryne Fisher, were adapted into the Australian television series Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. The television adaptation of this book was in Episode 1 of Season 1 of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, and bore several differences from the original novel. In the television episode, an additional subplot is created concerning Miss Fisher's sister, Jane. In the novel, Phryne Fisher's sister is said to have died of diphtheria and starvation, however, in the television series, Phryne has frequent flashbacks to her youth and her sister, and a reference is made suggesting that Jane might have been murdered. It is additionally suggested that Phryne Fisher's interest in detective work may have been motivated by this.