Death in Daylesford (Phryne Fisher Mystery, #21)

Death in DaylesfordDeath in Daylesford
by Kerry Greenwood
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781743310342
Series: Phryne Fisher #21
Publication Date: November 15, 2020
Pages: 321
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Surrounded by secrets, great and small, the formidable Miss Phryne Fisher returns to vanquish injustice.

When a mysterious invitation arrives for Miss Phryne Fisher from an unknown Captain Herbert Spencer, Phryne's curiosity is excited. Spencer runs a retreat in Victoria's spa country for shell-shocked soldiers of the First World War. It's a cause after Phryne's own heart but what could Spencer want from her?

Phryne and the faithful Dot view their spa sojourn as a short holiday but are quickly thrown in the midst of disturbing Highland gatherings, disappearing women, murder and the mystery of the Temperance Hotel.

Meanwhile, Cec, Bert and Tinker find a young woman floating face down in the harbour, dead. Tinker, with Jane and Ruth, Phryne's resilient adopted daughters, together decide to solve what appears to be a heinous crime.

Disappearances, murder, bombs, booby-traps and strange goings-on land Miss Phryne Fisher right in the middle of her most exciting adventure.

I’ve been a fan of this series from the beginning but this one was phoned in, either by the author herself or Allen and Unwin, or, possibly, both.  I still enjoyed the hell out of catching up with Phryne and friends, but in quality, this was disappointing.

Death in Daylesford is one of her longer entries, and the story meanders quite a bit across at least 3 different plot-lines taking place in two different places: Melbourne’s mystery being solved by Phryne’s three adopted kids and her assistant’s fiancé (a police detective), and one in Daylesford, a spa town about an hour away from Melbourne, spear-headed by Phryne and her assistant Dot.

The Melbourne plot could have been scrapped and I’d have never missed it.  While I like Jane and Ruth as characters, I found their plot/mystery to be too Nancy Drew for my tastes.  The death they investigated was tragic, and it’s solution sad, but it was superfluous to requirements.

Phryne’s mysteries were more interesting and more diabolical, but poor editing and the inclusion of the Nancy Drew parallel plot detracted significantly from what it might have been.  The poor editing is obvious – and surprising – in the form of missing words, and one scene where the dead body is removed from the scene twice.  Blaming the parallel plot is just speculation on my part, but so many things in Phryne’s mysteries were glossed over and she reached conclusions with no discernible process to the reader, that I have to believe Greenwood just didn’t have the page space to expand on plot points the way she might have.  Which is a shame, because the plots were interesting and deserved more than they got.

In spite of all this, I enjoyed the read, and I’m thrilled to see a new Phryne Fisher mystery out, after I’d started to believe the series was over.  I hope there will be more, and I hope the author and the publisher both get their groove back.

Shake Down (Elliott Lisbon Mystery, #5)

Shake DownShake Down
by Kendel Lynn
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781635115871
Series: Elliott Lisbon Mystery #5
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
Pages: 224
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

Ballantyne Foundation Director and PI-in-training, Elliott Lisbon, is enjoying her idyllically slow life on Sea Pine Island, South Carolina. It’s the week before the annual Beach Ball and she’s sipping Bellinis on the sidelines. Her committee involvement is limited to securing the centerpieces: scrumptious masterpieces from the Cake & Shake. But when the head baker goes missing, Elli’s calm life gets a major shakeup. She takes the case and soon learns that missing is a relative term.

As Elli walks the delicate line between a woman finding herself and a woman needing to be found, the days speed up and she knows something’s about to go down. From drug runners to whistleblowers to sea turtle sabotage, Elli stirs up secrets and inadvertently whips a desperate killer into a frenzy. If she doesn’t find a way out of the heat, she’s going to get burned.

I’m always excited about a new Elliott Lisbon mystery being released; Kendel Lynn doesn’t publish on the typical once-a-year schedule, so you just never know when or if the next one is coming.

But they’re worth the suspense – these are well-written mysteries with solid plots and while definitely cozy, there’s nothing cutesy or twee about the characters or the plots.  Shake Down starts off slow and builds slowly, with the search for a missing woman.  Is she missing?  Did she just take off?  Was there foul play involved?  Elliott Lisbon is a PI in training, putting in her required hours before receiving her license and she’s hired to find the woman, or find out what happened to her.

For spice, and possibly levity, there’s a reality tv show involved in the plot, but the ending is unexpected and, well, unexpected.  This one isn’t going to keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will offer you a satisfying mystery.

A Noël Killing (A Provençal Mystery, #8)

A Noël KillingA Noël Killing
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780143134060
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #8
Publication Date: November 12, 2019
Pages: 286
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books

Just as the holiday cheer is in full swing, a man is poisoned, sending the community into a tailspin. The list of suspects, Verlaque and Bonnet quickly discover, almost fills the church itself, from the visiting vendors at the Christmas fair to the victim’s unhappy wife and his disgruntled business partner. In A Noël Killing, with the help of an ever-watchful young woman named France, the pair must solve the murder while the spirit of the season attempts to warm Verlaque’s stubborn heart.

In general, this series has been excellent in every way, but this one wasn’t its strongest entry.

The narrative meandered.  A lot.  It took several chapters to get a grip on what was going on, and who was doing what to whom.  There’s a slow build up to the crime, which I don’t mind, but because everything else was slow too, it was a battle to keep my attention on the book.

Once things did start moving, they felt scattered and disorganised, though this improved quite a bit as the story progressed.  Still, of the books I’ve read this month, this is the one I’m struggling most to remember anything about.  It wasn’t unpleasant or badly written, it just wasn’t a strong plot and it lacked the usual strong writing, or perhaps strong editing.

I’m happy to blame it on Covid and hope that the next one measures up to the first 7.

The Last Mrs. Summers (Royal Spyness Mystery, #14)

The Last Mrs. SummersThe Last Mrs. Summers
by Rhys Bowen
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780451492876
Series: Royal Spyness #14
Publication Date: August 6, 2020
Pages: 290
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

Bowen’s homage to Rebecca, this entry might or might not be a disappointment to those who have read du Maurier’s classic – I’ve never read it myself, so the plot here was new to me, though I could appreciate the allusions and the tip of the hat to the gothic atmosphere.

The story, homage or not, is well-written enough that I don’t think fans of the series will be disappointed.  It’s not her absolute best (The Twelve Clues of Christmas, imo) but it’s well-plotted and the characters are well drawn.  Darcy has little page time, as usual, but we get a lot more of Belinda and her background, which I enjoyed.  Queenie makes a thankfully brief appearance, but otherwise it’s a whole new cast of characters in the wilds of Cornwall, in what ends up to be a delightfully crazy plot.

Eventually though, I’m going to have to cave and read Rebecca.

Fatal Cajun Festival (A Cajun Country Mystery, #5)

Fatal Cajun FestivalFatal Cajun Festival
by Ellen Byron
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781643851297
Series: Cajun Country Mystery #5
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Pages: 292
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Grab your tickets for Cajun Country Live!, the pickers' and crooners' answer to the legendary New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Maggie Crozat, proprietor of the Crozat Plantation B&B, plans to be in the cheering section when her friend Gaynell Bourgeois takes the stage with her band, Gaynell and the Gator Girls.

The festival's headliner, native daughter Tammy Barker, rocketed to stardom on a TV singing competition. She has the voice of an angel...and the personality of a devilish diva. But Maggie learns that this tiny terror carries a grudge against Gaynell. She's already sabotaged the Gator Girls' JazzFest audition. When a member of Tammy's entourage is murdered at the festival, Tammy makes sure Gaynell is number one on the suspect list.

Gaynell has plenty of company on that list--including every one of Tammy's musicians. Posing as a groupie, Maggie infiltrates Tammy's band and will have to hit all the right notes to clear her friend's name.

Not bad; I think Crooked Lane Publishers could do better with a tighter editing process, but the plotting was excellent.  The characters weren’t engaging as past entries of the series, but I’m not sure I can say why.  Generally, a relatively solid entry in a better than average series.

My last excuse for disappearing of 2020; or how I’ve spent my holidays thus far… (Part V – and Final!)

Once MT found me again, we strolled back to the Cave House and got extraordinarily lucky:  we stumbled across another Lyrebird, out in the open, this time in the middle of a courtship display for a female he was pursuing.  I got a ton of pictures and a few videos.

Superb Lyrebird

I’ve noticed that picture quality on the post itself isn’t great (though if you click on the photos they look better), so I’m hoping the video quality will be better.  I’m posting two:  a 15 second video which has clear footage of the Lyrebird performing his ‘dance’, and the second one is a 1 minute video, where the Lyrebird is more obscured by the bush, but his mimicry is more varied and towards the end he mimics a laughing Kookaburra so accurately, he sets off the local Kookaburras.

I’m also including a clip of Lyrebird song, because the audio on the videos isn’t great; the clip will give you a better idea of how varied lyrebird songs are, and it’s much clearer.

Sound clip of Lyrebird:

The other huge ‘get’ for me came the next morning, when we were out on our final walk before heading back to Melbourne.  We were just coming down off the trail near the campgrounds when we heard a strange sounding ruckus coming from the scrubs in a very small gully below.  When we snuck down to investigate we found a male Satin Bowerbird.

The thing that sets Bowerbirds apart from other pretty birds is that they build bowers – small but elaborate displays used to woo a female, and each bowerbird species has an affinity for a certain color, and will collect objects of that color for their bowers.  Satin Bowerbirds prefer blue, and will collect blue bits and bobs and arrange them just so around their bower, all to attract a female.  When the female arrives, he does his own elaborate dance in hopes that she’ll select him as a mate.

I’ve seen male Satin Bowerbirds from a distance before, and on this trip I’d seen several females, but I’ve always wanted to see the bower and figured my odds of stumbling across one were close to nil, because it’s not like they’d build them on a hiking path.  But as I was angling to get a good shot of this male bowerbird, I looked down the gully and there it was!!!  His bower!  I sent MT off and hunkered down, hoping to catch him working on it, and after several attempts I succeeded:

Satin Bowerbird – Male, in his bower.

I was dependent on the zoom lens, of course, but you can see the bits of blue he has strewn around, and the beginnings of a bower there in the center.  Not David Attenborough quality, but it’s 100% more bower bird bower than I thought I’d ever get to see.  😀

On that successful note, we packed it up and headed home.  It was Christmas Eve and we hoped we’d be able to find a small chicken to roast for dinner and pretend it was a turkey.  We stopped in Sale, Victoria for fuel and I found an open butcher shop that had two fresh turkeys left – hurrah!  So we ended up with Christmas dinner after all, if not the large family celebrations we had planned.

God bless us, every one.  🙂

My last excuse for disappearing of 2020; or how I’ve spent my holidays thus far… (Part IV)

So, we’ve arrived at Cave House, and I’ve gone back out to explore a little before it gets dark.  The grounds of the park really are amazing, and though the bushfires destroyed parts of the reserve, (the cabins they normally rent out were damaged, and the caves themselves had to be inspected for heat stress damage) which only reopened the week before our arrival, the main grounds of the park were blessedly spared.  Our wetter-than-normal spring and summer this year has also meant an abundance of birds and wildlife.

Musk Lorikeet in a Wild Cherry Plum tree.

The real exploration started the next morning – early, but not bright, as it was raining again.  But I was determined.  I was not the only one, as I was greeted by a small but very drenched mob of kangaroos just outside our gate:

Moving along towards the back of the park, I heard a Superb Lyrebird singing off to my left.  Lyrebirds are extraordinary for three things:  their tails, which are extravagant; their shyness, which is legendary; and their songs, which are long, complex and up to 80% mimicry of other songbirds’ calls.  A lyrebird will riff off other bird calls for minutes at a time, stringing them together one after the other, interspersed with their own sounds.

Before, I’ve only ever seen Lyrebirds’ tails, as they hare off into the underbrush – they can’t fly well but they’re roadrunner fast.  On this trip, I’d already seen two in all their feathers, rambling around the underbrush (where it was dark enough to guarantee bad pictures).  This rainy morning, I thought I’d just find a dry spot under a tree and listen to the morning aria, and ended up close enough to see him on a tree branch, seemingly singing for his own enjoyment.  When he was finished, he hopped off and scurried away, and I continued on up the hiking path.  That Lyrebird was not only fast, but seemed to have the same idea I did, because I came around the bend and there he was:

Our gentle morning shower was quickly deteriorating into a proper rain and I moved on at a fast clip, and met MT at the end of the path (he’d started out after I did), where we spotted another Lyrebird out in the open, scratching away for breakfast on the forest floor.  We headed back to Caves House to dry off and head off for more exploring.

Our morning was a bust, a place called Lakes Entrance.  Lovely if you’re wanting the beach on a hot day, I’m guessing, but very touristy and soulless otherwise.  We had a great breakfast and a nice half hour in the local bookshop, where we each walked out with a few books.

We cut our losses and headed back, our destination Little Creek Falls in the Alpine National Park.  Siri got us there, but overshot us past the falls, taking us around the mountain on a dirt road with no guardrails, but once we turned back around, we stopped first at Little Falls Gorge, the deepest gorge in Australia, (the picture at the top of these posts is the gorge) and then eventually found the falls, which weren’t falls so much as cascades. And very much worth the effort.

We saw a few birds, but more exciting was the rock wallabies and the Australian Water Dragons – there were 4 or 5 of them sunning themselves on the rocks, each about 3ft/1m long.  They scattered when they heard us, save this one, who was not going to give up his sunny spot for mere humans.

Our return was via another route, as we were aiming for another waterfall just outside Buchan, and while our drive was gorgeous and often hilarious – the road took us through several cow pastures, where the calves found us fascinating, running up to the car to get a good look at us – the falls were a complete bust.  We’re assuming post-bushfire signage was incorrectly placed because there were no falls at the end of the trail.  A prime example of the journey being better than the destination.

Once back, I walked around our reserve again, and caught several more birds on camera, all completely new to me, and some more kangaroo antics:

Two more things worth mentioning happened – one that evening and one the next morning, but this post is long and it’s crashed once, so I’ll put them in one final – I promise! – post.



My last excuse for disappearing of 2020; or how I’ve spent my holidays thus far… (Part III)

When last I left off, MT and I had just left Mallacoota to head towards home, rather than the Christmas with family we’d planned.  We’d decided to take the long, long way home, with two nights back at the Buchan Caves Reserve, in the original owners’ home, Caves House.  On our way back to Buchan, we were going to make a few stops along the way, to places Finding Australian Birds – the best bird book I’ve ever found – recommended.

The first was Cape Conran Coastal Park, and when my phone’s GPS spit out the directions, I thought Siri was nuts; she told us to turn right on “Old Coastal Road” which was a 28km dirt road.  MT was more willing to believe, or maybe he just wanted an excuse to go off-road.  Those 28km took us through some of the most remote, often teeth-rattling, dry eucalypt forest I’ve ever seen, and when it was finally over we got a short reprieve on a paved back-road through gorgeous rainforest.  Then, back onto more desolate dirt roads that took us to the coast, and here the road was lined with banksias and touted a flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos – who are un-paralleled at hiding behind tree limbs.

Once we parked though, I started thinking this might have been a whole lot of off-roading adventure for very little result.  Not a lot of bird action and not a lot of area to walk or hike, just the road in.  Then I heard MT off in the distance shouting for me to ‘come towards the camping area as fast as you can’.  I figured he’d either spotted a koala or injured himself.  Instead it was something totally different that made our long drive out to the middle of nowhere absolutely worth it.

When I found MT, he was standing less than 3 meters away from a very large lace monitor, or goanna.  It took me a moment to spot it because I thought it was a fallen tree limb, but once it moved, I took several hundred photos of it because it was magnificent.

I am really terrible at estimating size, but MT is pretty accurate.  I knew this guy was almost as long as I am tall, and MT agreed.  At about 5.5 feet long, this tree monitor comes close to  the maximum size for his species, which is the second-largest monitor in Australia.  He was amazing, and quite sanguine about me standing there taking a bazillion photos of him.

When we finally gave him some peace, we turned the corner and found this little guy:

and the dichotomy made me laugh.  Then I found out he’s a Jacky Dragon and it seems even more amusing.

We left Cape Conran soon thereafter and after a few more back dirt roads, came to Cabbage Palm Tree Creek Preserve, a mouthful for what was a tiny gem of rainforest tucked away far from civilisation.  It only took 20 minutes to walk the entire pocket, and it was a true rainforest, with intermittent rain and a burbling creek running through it.  We spotted Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos hiding in the canopy, and assorted honeyeaters, silvereyes and a new one for me, rufous fantails in the understory.

Rufous Fantail

It was all so beautiful, I had to walk through it twice, rain or no rain.  After that, we toyed with another stop, but started worrying about getting back to Buchan in time to check-in.  This ended up being a good call because we got there at 3.45 and they’d shut at 3.00.  More luck for us that MT found a park ranger still around and she got us the keys to the Caves House.  Where I promptly dumped my stuff and headed back out to explore.

My last excuse for disappearing of 2020; or how I’ve spent my holidays thus far… (Part II)

In my first post, I left off at MT and I arriving in Mallacoota, discovering we could no longer go into New South Wales for Christmas as planned.  The next morning, we considered our options; I certainly didn’t want to just turn around and go back home.  MT was amenable to finding someplace between Mallacoota and home to stay, and it seemed to me there was no place better than where we’d just been – Buchan Caves Reserve. Buchan’s population is about 385, so accommodation options are limited, to say the least.  Luck was with us in this regard, as the Caves House on the park grounds was available and I quickly snatched it up for two nights.

Plans sufficiently re-arranged, we went off to explore Mallacoota, where birds were everywhere.  Almost all of them new to me.

This was the good news.  The less-than-good news is that the national park that surrounds Mallacoota and reaches into New South Wales still has a way to go in terms of bushfire recovery.  While I was impressed with how quickly all the Eucalyptus trees had greened themselves back up, looking like furry sticks reaching into the sky, the underbrush was still devastated, and the walking paths were largely closed, still awaiting their turn for repairs.  A large part of the coastal ecosystem is tea-tree scrub, and it doesn’t grow back after a fire, so the coast line will likely take decades before it looks healthy again.  But still, eerily beautiful.

When our two nights in Mallacoota were over, we packed up the car again, and instead of heading north as originally planned we turned back around and headed back to Buchan Caves Preserve, and in a lot of ways, this was where our holiday got adventurous.

My last excuse for disappearing of 2020; or how I’ve spent my holidays thus far… (Part I)

Looking at my posts, the last time I was around was the 11th of December, with a week of work to go before the Christmas holidays started.  That last week is a write-off; it was insanely busy with boring details not worth remembering, never mind mentioning.

The weekend of the 18th though, we were both free, and packing up the car for a Christmas adventure; we were taking three days to drive up to northern New South Wales to spend Christmas with MT’s brother and his family, stopping along the way at a few National Parks and a place called Berkelouw’s Book Barn, to go crazy on the new and used books.  We left at the crack of dawn Sunday looking only slightly like the Beverly Hillbillies, and really looking forward to every part of the trip.

Alas, it’s still 2020.

The day before we left, there was a COVID outbreak – a very small one – in the northern beaches of Sydney.  We weren’t going anywhere near that part of NSW, but we got state border permits, to make things easy, and didn’t worry about it.  By the time we got to our first stop on Sunday, 4 hours into the drive, the outbreak had grown significantly and moved further north, dangerously close to our final destination.  Still we weren’t too worried, and we had a date that afternoon for some spelunking at Buchan Caves Reserve:

Afterwards, we explored some of the park around the caves, which is beautiful – I seriously fell in love with the place – took a few photos, and then headed towards our destination for the next two nights, Mallacoota, Victoria.

News-hounds might recognise the name Mallacoota; it’s the town where, during the bushfires, thousands of residents were trapped on the shoreline for a few days before the Australian Navy went in and rescued them.  Fortunately, the lodge we were booked at escaped the fire and both it and the grounds were beautiful:

Unfortunately for everybody, things in Sydney had gotten progressively worse, and during our first night, we received two text messages from the Victorian Department of Health, saying our permits had been revoked and anyone entering Victoria from New South Wales would be required to sit a 14 day hotel quarantine at personal expense.

And just like that, we had no Christmas plans.  (to be continued)