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Pan Books

Ruddy Gore by Kerry Greenwood & Without Warning by Peter Yeldham

May 1995, no. 170

In her previous Phryne Fisher instalment, Blood and Circuses, Kerry Greenwood took advantage of her knowledge of circus and carnival life to weave an intriguing tale spotlighting a whole host of oddball types. Now in Ruddy Gore she uses her insider’s familiarity with the precious world of the theatre to similar effect. Greenwood always handles her material with a deft, almost disdainful assurance, and this book is no exception. The year is 1928, and a special performance of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera Ruddigore is being staged at Her Majesty’s to honour the famous aviator, Bert Hinkler. On her way to the theatre Phryne intervenes in a fight involving a Chinese man, then during the show two of the actors are poisoned, one fatally, and Phryne’s services are engaged by Management to solve the mystery.

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Critically reviewing a populist genre novel requires a particular cribbing, a playing off against deep-seated transcendental notions of literature that tend to motivate pronouncements upon the relatively good and bad points.

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‘When Australians run away, they always run to the coast.’ Robert Drewe has already debunked the myth of the bush as Australia’s heartland, and in The Bodysurfers pictured us living and loving on the very rim of the continent, precariously perched in salty, sweaty, and essentially temporary hedonistic bliss between the threat of the empty outback, the incendiary bush, and the menace of the ocean with its sharp­toothed predators and secret stingers.

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