Technically, I suppose the title of this post should be "listened to," but audiobooks are reading too!
That sounds grammatically dodgy, but it is also the truth.
The reason you should listen to these books has very little to do with the plot, characters, or setting (although at least one of all three is delightful in most of the books) and everything to do with Stephanie Daniel as the brilliant, clever, and talented narrator. I feel awkward listening to narrators who try to hard to make men Very Deep Voiced and women OH SO HIGH AND FLIGHTY TEE HEE LADY VOICES! But Daniel creates a distinctive voice and tone for each character and switches between them effortlessly. I could never read a paper copy of any of the Phryne Fisher books without hearing her in my head. She even makes a valiant (if slightly misguided) attempt at a deep Louisiana accent. Good on her!
For the most part, these are charming mysteries following the amateur detective career of the Hon. Phryne Fisher. Yes, that's Phryne, pronounced "fry-nee" and not "fern" as I had been saying it for years. Goodness. Evidently Phryne was a famous courtesan who offered to pay for the walls of Thebes back in Ye Olde Ancient Tymes. Classical antiquity was rather lacking in my education. Anyhoo, Phryne, who has a shining black cap of hair and emerald green eyes (protagonist signature), is dreadfully bored with her life in the English countryside. Catching foolish young men with a predilection for petty thievery just isn't cutting it, and she certainly isn't about to get married. Phryne is a trained-in-Paris flapper who can shoot a gun, speak French, and maintain her sangfroid in many different situations. She ships off to Melbourne, where she was born, and makes the acquaintance of Scottish lady Doctor MacMillan on the journey. Eventually, we meet Dot, a housemaid contemplating murder who eventually becomes Phryne's personal maid, and Bert and Cec (pronounced "Sess" for Cecil), two ex-soldiers-turned-cab drivers and communists. Bert and Cec are my favorite characters in the series so far.
The rotating paramour trope appears in each book. Phryne likes sex, uses birth control, and has no desire to marry or get particularly attached to anyone. This "man in every book" gets tiresome after a while, especially with all the talk about Phryne's nipples. There is a lot of nipple talk, which always makes me feel awkward when listening to a book. Sometimes I wish Greenwood would just do characters and mystery and skip the sexy bits.
My least favorite was Blood and Circuses, but that seems to be a consensus among readers of the series. So let's go through them in order of what I've completed!
Phryne arrives in Melbourne with a commission to investigate the poor health of Lydia Andrews, daughter of a well-off British colonel who has all the symptoms of being poisoned. After taking up residence in a posh hotel, Phryne acquires a lady's maid and semi-reliable transportation. Not only does she become embroiled in a cocaine ring pursued by Russian dancer vigilantes (long story), but also tracks down an illegal abortionist whose butchery kills most of the women he "treats." A very solid entry into the series.
Flying Too High
Because detectives in series must have many different talents (this is a rule somewhere; I'm sure of it), Phryne is rather a good pilot. When her next case takes her to a flying school whose proprietor's ill temper may make him a threat to his father's life, she shows the men how it's really done. There, she also encounters her former schoolmate Bungee Ross, a very talented pilot who's flown over the Himalayas and so forth. Each novel always has two mysteries; so in addition to The Murdered Father, Phryne must track down a kidnapped child.
Murder on the Ballarat Train
On the way to the Australian countryside (outback? Must it always be called the outback?) by train, Phryne awakens in a chloroform haze. Rushing through the compartments, she flings open the windows and rouses the occupants, only to notice that an elderly passenger is missing. Her body is later found, mangled, near a water tower. But there's also someone on the train who should not have been: a young teenage girl. She has no memory of who she is or how she got on the train, and she shows signs of having been molested. Phryne's investigations introduce her to a strapping young university student, a creepy mesmerist, and a possible killer fiancé. I quite liked this one because of the stories of Ruth and Jane, two girls that Phryne adopts. She has a heart, after all.
Death At Victoria Dock
If you are going to commit a murder, don't almost shoot Phryne Fisher while doing so. It puts her out of temper and will cause her to pursue you to the ends of the earth ... or at least Melbourne. Passing by Victoria Dock, Phryne's beautiful red Hispano-Suiza gets dinged with bullets, and upon alighting, she sees the body of a beautiful young man, covered in blood and with an anarchist tattoo on his breast. He dies in her arms. Phryne tracks the anarchists with the aid of brooding and melancholy Peter Smith, who becomes her lover. Dot also gets a boyfriend in this book: the innocent but earnest Hugh.
The Green Mill Murder
Out dancing with a rather insipid young man at a jazz club called the Green Mill, Phryne literally falls over a corpse--the body of a young man who had been competing in a dance marathon. Someone managed to stab him through the heart with a thin, sharp instrument in front of the dancers and the band without anyone noticing. Is the charming bandmaster Tintagel Stone involved? To exonerate an innocent man, Phryne must fly her Gypsy Moth over the Australian Alps to find a man suffering from shellshock. He is basically a super-hot bearded Viking and I totally approve of him being with Phryne. I really, really enjoyed the mountain journey part of this book.
Blood and Circuses
Ughhhhhh. This book. Premise: Phryne has friends (and a lover, natch) among the carneys who follow traveling circuses. Their particular circus is being sabotaged, and they want Phryne to find out what's going on. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Robinson (another one of my favorite characters because of his very plain manner) investigates the murder of an intersex person performing as a "freak" in the circus. Phryne assumes the mantle of bareback trick rider to inflitrate the circus (which of course she pulls off, because of course) and has a lot of angst about being on her own without a maid or anyone. Thankfully, she finds solace in the arms of Jojo the Jewish clown. I am not making this up.
Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan will probably enjoy this more than I did, but this is perfectly serviceable. During a performance of Ruddigore, not one but TWO actors collapse on stage from poison. With the help of a by-Jove-yes-guvnor stagehand and the elegant Lin Chung, Phryne must solve a decades-old murder, investigate a ghost, stop the actors' romantic entanglements from tearing the theatre apart, and solve the murder. This one has some rather gruesome deaths and handily disposes of one of Phryne's former lovers by marrying him off. He was rather boring, anyway. It's hinted that Lin Chung and Phryne will be together for a longer period of time, but I'll have to read the next one to believe that.
If you like light mysteries with loads of atmosphere and a cast of fun characters, check out this series. But do choose the audio versions--they are absolutely marvelous.