Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Unnatural Habits - Kerry Greenwood
One night, Phryne saves a young reporter, Polly Kettle, from a beating in Little Lonsdale Street. She discovers that Polly is on the track of a story about young girls vanishing from the Magdalene Laundry at the Good Shepherd Convent. The Laundry was a place where unmarried, pregnant girls were sent in disgrace, worked unmercifully hard & then, when they were due to give birth, sent to a nursing home run by cruel Mrs Ryan. All the time the fact of their disgrace was dinned into them & their babies were taken away for adoption. Three of these girls sent to Mrs Ryan's have disappeared. Have they been kidnapped or have they run away? When Polly herself goes missing shortly afterwards, Phryne investigates.
With the help of Inspector Jack Robinson, her maid, Dot, adopted daughters, Ruth & Jane, new arrival Tinker & Communist taxi drivers Bert & Cec, Phryne infiltrates the Convent. She discovers the horrors the girls suffered there, disowned by their families & at the mercy of a rigidly moralistic Church establishment. Phryne's title & her impeccable style give her access to the Bishop's Palace, an exclusive gentleman's club in Melbourne & the homes of the Camberwell middle-class. The stories of cruelty & neglect that Phryne uncovers during the investigation daunt her spirit for a time but she is determined to find the missing girls, expose the scandal of the Magdalene Laundry & stop an evil trade in young girls that begins at the Williamstown docks & ends in the Middle East.
Phryne is the ultimate fantasy figure. She has everything she could want but she inherited her wealth after an impoverished childhood so she appreciates it. She drove an ambulance during WWI & her politics are impeccably liberal & non-discriminatory. Non-racist, non-sexist, inclusive of everyone regardless of race, creed or sexual preference, she's really a 21st century woman in the 1920s. The detail of Phryne's life, from the food to the gorgeous clothes & her love of Jicky perfume, is a lot of fun. The reader can sense Kerry Greenwood's delight in her creation's sense of style & luxury. Her adventures are always a delight & I love visiting early 20th century Melbourne with such a stylish guide.