Raisins and Almonds Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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From Publishers Weekly
The mysterious strychnine poisoning of scholarly Jewish immigrant Simon Michaels leads to one of the more complex and somber cases in the career of Greenwood's Australian Jazz Age amateur sleuth Phryne Fisher (Urn Burial, etc.). Fearing that the killing may signal a rise in anti-Semitism, affluent community leader Benjamin Abrahams hires Fisher to clear the name of his tenant, bookseller Sylvia Lee. Fisher, only slightly distracted by Benjamin's devastatingly handsome son, quickly exonerates Lee and dashes off in pursuit of the theory that Michaels was killed for a coded message that might be related to the local Zionist movement. Compared with some of the other entries in Greenwood's popular series, the mood is more serious and the identity of the murderer more mysterious, but fans will have no cause for complaint. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Australian social pillar Phryne Fisher's penchant for offbeat lovers involves her in a case that requires the close study of Judaism.Anyone would enjoy dancing with handsome young Simon Abrahams. But that tango isn't close enough for Simon's wealthy father, who wants Phryne Fisher (The Green Mill Murder, 2007, etc.) to investigate the arsenic death of a young student in a bookshop owned by Sylvia Lee, the suspect arrested by Phryne's pal DI Jack Robinson. With the help of her companion Dot, Phryne quickly satisfies herself that Miss Lee is innocent and that the student was killed while looking for something hidden in a book at her shop. The victim has left behind papers written in an obscure Hebrew code and pictures that relate to alchemy. In order to interpret them, Phryne must immerse herself in a world foreign to her, picking up a little Yiddish, interviewing students and a rabbi, learning about refugees, pogroms and Zionism, and along the way enjoying chicken soup and gefilte fish. Since someone clearly feels the information in the coded message is worth killing for, Phryne and her friends, old and new, must crack the code. The clever heroine manages to carry on an affair with Simon, placate his doting mother, improve her knowledge of all things Jewish and ultimately solve a tricky and dangerous case.Another smashing tale of mystery and manners between the world wars. (Kirkus Reviews) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
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Simon's father asks Phryne to investigate the strange death of a young religious student in a bookshop owned and operated by one Miss Lee in a property she rents from Simon's father. She is accused of the murder. Phryne follows the usual course in the investigation, using all her wiles and helpers--her maid Dot, Bert and Cec the Wobbly cab drivers and Inspector Robinson. The task is complicated by all kinds of considerations, including alchemy, mysticism and politics, including Zionism. Phryne has to learn all of the nuances, and even begins to speak a little Yiddish.
While a mystery, the story takes on a very different flavor from that of other novels in the series. It is not only entertaining in the customary manner of the other books in this series, but is informative and the unexpected descriptions of Yiddish culture are authentic.
Unfortunately, that's not "Raisins and Almonds." It's not that author Kerry Greenwood can't effectively and smoothly splice history lessons into her Phryne Fisher novels: She's done so in the past, particularly in Death at Victoria Dock: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, which examined anarchism in 1920s Australia, and The Green Mill Murder: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, which provides a glimpse into life in the untamed, breath-taking Snowy River country during the same time period. However, in "Raisins and Almonds," Greenwood is so taken with teaching us about the Kabbalah, medieval Jewish mysticism, kosher dietary laws, early Zionism and Jews in early 20th century Australia that the history lesson gets in the way of the story. Greenwood even provides a Yiddish glossary at the end of the novel, a two-page bibliography "[i]f anyone would like to duplicate my research" (uh, what's the likelihood of that???) and spends a painstaking two pages elucidating the difference between a schlemiel and a schlimazl, for heavens' sake! At times, the Jews emerge as stereotypes (e.g., Julia Abrahams, the mother of Phryne's newfound Jewish lover, as the archetypical suffocating Jewish mother and Rabbi Elijah as the unapproachable Kabbalah mystic). Greenwood's depiction of virgin Simon Abrahams as a fascinating lover is more part and parcel of Greenwood's adolescent fascination with early 20th century Australian Jewry. Seriously, how probable is it that the experienced and experimental Phryne Fisher is going to be impressed by a mama's boy who has never been with a woman? Greenwood is so determined to provide a glowing portrait of the resilient and adaptable Ashkenazi Jews of early 20th century Australia in "Raisins and Almonds" that, ironically, they emerge as two-dimensional characters.
For those interested in a more three-dimensional -- and better interwoven -- portrayal of Jews in history than you'll get in "Raisins and Almonds," please try Sharan Newman's Catherine LeVendeur series about Jews in 12th century Paris; Ariana Franklin's excellent Mistress of the Art of Death, which elucidates the lives of Jews in 12th century Sicily and England; King's and Dorothy and Sidney Rosen's Belle Appleman series, which is set in Depression Era Boston. As with the early Rabbi David Small novels of the late Harry Kemelman, Faye Kellerman's Rina Lazarus series, and King's Mary Russell novels, these provide an education about the Jewish way of life without swamping the mystery aspect of the novel.
Now, how does the mystery in "Raisins and Almonds" stack up? Even on that level, the novel, the ninth in the Phryne Fisher series, doesn't compare with any of Greenwood's previous novels. A yeshiva student who goes by the Anglicized name of Simon Michaels (actual name: Shimeon Ben Mikhael, an immigrant from Salonika) is poisoned while in a bookstore, and the proprietress gets the blame. A leader of the Jewish community (Simon Abrahams' father Benjamin) hires Phryne to catch the real murderer. As usual, Phryne enlists her faithful maid and companion, Dot Williams; her two "red ragger" pals, Cecil and Bert; and her adoptive daughters to help her discern who really killed Michaels. Usually, the result is a delightful and clever mystery; however, here Greenwood just seems to be going through the motions. You'll figure out how Michaels was poisoned long before Phryne or Detective Inspector John "Call me Jack, everyone does" Robinson do. The identity of the true murderer will, I admit, come as a surprise, and there's a suspenseful climax. Even so, without the unrelieved and clumsy history lessons, the pedestrian "Raisins and Almonds" might have risen to three stars, but no more. Raisins and Almonds is no Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher Mysteries (Paperback)), Flying Too High : a Phryne Fisher Mystery, The Green Mill Murder: A Phryne Fisher Mystery or Blood and Circuses (Phryne Fisher Mysteries (Paperback)). If you're looking to skip one, this is the one.
Benjamin asks Phryne for a favor. A different Simon, a Jew from Salonika was poisoned at Lee's Books New and Secondhand Shop. The evidence was swept away by the owner Miss Sylvia Lee and the certifying physician Dr. Stein. The police arrest Miss Lee, as the victim owed her money and she is the only person who could easily have slipped strychnine into his tea and clean the cup afterward. Phryne charges him 10 "oy" quid a day with the understanding that she will seek the truth which could be a Jew killing a Jew. As she investigates, Phryne digs deep into the Jewish community in Australia where chicken soup cures most everything and RAISINS AND ALMONDS are a tradition, but can either solve a murder with political implications?
The latest Phryne Fisher historical whodunit is a great period piece that brings to life the Jewish culture in Australia in the late 1920s. Phryne remains a unique protagonist who defies society rules for single women as she does what she wants flaunting society's restrictive dictates. The mystery is clever with a few twists and the way the sleuth finally figures out the case is brilliant as she understands human nature. Readers will appreciate this vivid deep mystery but never look at RAISINS AND ALMONDS the same way as before digesting Phryne Fisher's newest caper.
Raisins and Almonds is Book 8 in Kerry Greenwood's entertaining series about a female private eye set in the 1920's who dares to be rich, promiscuous, and single. Because Phryne collects so many characters into her life it is best to start reading at Book 1 Cocaine Blues: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries or if you have a Kindle read the bundle of the first 3 books Introducing the Honourable Phryne Fisher: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries 1, 2 & 3 (Phryne Fisher Mystery). On the latter you can see my fairly lengthy review which gives some background to Phryne's life.
A member of the Jewish community is poisoned when he opens a book in a local book store. The Gentile book store owner is arrested for the murder and her landlord, one of the richest Jews in Melbourne, hires Phryne to solve the murder. Kerry Greenwood extensively researched the Jewish religion and practices to make this book as authentic as possible.
Coincidentally Phryne's current lover is the landlord's son, so her meeting with his mother is a tense one. When the mother challenges Phryne about the affair, Phryne's tells her "I don't want to marry him -I just want to borrow him, I'll give him back when you want him. I know I can't keep him and I won't hurt him." Surprisingly the Phryne and the mother become good friends.
Once again the investigation thoroughly explores parts of Melbourne in the 1920's - this time the Eastern Market area. Thryne again solves the murder and its background by her thorough investigations of all aspects of the case that the police would not be able to cover.
I especially enjoyed this book because this murder investigation involved all of the charming and mixed circle of friends, staff, adopted children and animals that Phryne collected around her during her first few weeks after she arrived in Melbourne. In this book her maid and close confidant, Dot, shows her skills as an assistant investigator. A small ill-treated puppy, Molly, is added to Phryne's apparently dysfunctional but loving and supportive household.
One warning - reading Phryne Fisher mysteries can become an addiction. Once you read one you want to read them all.
WARNING: Several of the books (including this one) have been made into an (Australian) ABC TV series. Key character and story alterations may change the way you think about this delectable series of books. To really understand Phryne you should try to keep the characters in the books and the series clearly separate in your mind.
Private investigator, the Honorable Phryne Fisher, is hired by Benjamin Abrahams, a respected member of Melbourne's Jewish community. Miss Sylvia Lee is comfortable with her life as a single woman and owner of a bookstore. A man died suddenly in her shop, Sylvia has been arrested for murder and Mr. Benjamin, with his lovely son Simon, wants Phryne's help proving Sylvia innocent.
I want to be Phryne. She is smart, stylish, beautiful, sensual, independent, cleaver, caring and doesn't forget her roots of poverty even though she is now wealthy. Her life now includes a great cast of supporting characters; both those introduced in past books--I love that Dot, Phryne's maid, is coming into her own--and now Molly, the puppy. All the characters are wonderful, realistic, appropriate to the time and adding dimension to the story.
Greenwood creates a wonderful sense of, not only time and place, but social history. Here, we have the Jewish residents, information on alchemy, John Dee, the Torah and the Holy Kabala as well as Zionism and the desire for a Jewish homeland. Greenwood does an excellent job of combining the information into the story without it ever taking you out of the story.
I always enjoy Greenwood use of dialogue. Being set in 1920s Australia, I enjoyed figuring out the meaning of some idioms with which I was not previously familiar, such as "Phryne beguiled the rest of the afternoon."
The mystery itself is well done solved by legwork, logic and a wonderful bit of clever thinking on Phryne's part at the end. I was half right in figuring it out but love that I was only half right. This was another very good entry into a series I shall continue to enjoy.