Blood and Circuses: 01/31/17
Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood is the sixth of the Phryne Fisher mysteries. Phyrne goes under cover at a circus after an intersex performer is found brutally murdered in their apartment.
I'm going to hazard a guess that gender non conformity is outside of the author's comfort zone because the usual panache is completely missing from this book. I get that this series is historical fiction and that the circus has been one safe haven for people in a strictly hetero-normative world. Writing about a crime at a circus or involving ex-circus performers, though, isn't carte blanche to fetishize. Yet, that's usually where these circus stories go.
But that's exactly what Blood and Circuses does. The brutal murder of an intersex person who was also a know bisexual immediately leads to the conclusion that it must have been a crime of passion. Not a robbery gone wrong. Or argument over property. Or anything else. Nope. It's sex and it's bound to be kinky, dangerous sex.
Where do all those dangerous sex criminals hang out? The circus. Of course the circus is a very secretive, creepy, society. The only way to investigate is to go undercover. Do we send a police officer? No. We send Phryne.
I know I've been harsh on the television series adaptation. Here is a case where the television episode is better than the book. In the television show, Phyrne is retconned as having some prior experience in performing, enough so that she only has to learn a few new skills. In the book she goes in not knowing anything and ends up learning how to do acrobatics on the back of a moving horse. I get that there's centripetal force at play but it still must require a certain base level of athleticism that book Phryne isn't described as having.
Instead, Phryne is sent to the circus so that the narrative can put her in danger. Besides the raging sex criminals at loose, there's also a three tier class system, where each tier hates the others. All that's needed is a newbie to set them off. Wave at Phryne, everyone.
But mostly, Phryne is there to be the target of a rapist. Despite all her drinking, drugs, and sexual liberty, she is still cis and straight (far more so in the books than in the television series). She is there to face a potential "fate worse than death."