It’s been years since I read Cocaine Blues (I think it was in The Before Times), and I feared I’d have to go back to it for a refresher, but I needn’t have worried. Greenwood helpfully explains any references to past adventures whether they were in the first book or not. It seems to be the kind of deal where Phryne’s backstory is dropped in little snippets whenever one of her astounding skills needs to be explained, so I find it less likely I forgot that she had piloting experience in book one, and more likely that I won’t find out about that time she climbed Mount Everest until Greenwood needs to explain how Phryne can suddenly ascend sheer rock faces with the greatest of ease.
One thing I do wish I remembered about Cocaine Blues is whether or not it also switched from lighthearted and snarky to downright disturbing and back at the drop of a hat. Several times Flying Too High was rolling along pleasantly on Cheeky Street before hitting the gas and taking a hard turn onto WTF Drive on the way to Darksville, only to take another screeching-tire turn onto What A Lark Avenue. Spoilery examples include:
Sexual assault played for laughs and not even viewed as sexual assault. Posing nude for an artist is not an invitation to have your nipples sucked by said artist who is frustrated with the lack of tension in your body. And the whole thing is played for laughs. And then they have consensual sex, because yay for sexual agency, I guess? And then they go out to dinner and Phryne asks to buy the sculpture she just posed and was assaulted for, because who wouldn’t want to have a tangible reminder of that time a guy you’d never met before sucked your nipples without permission?
Making a deal with a pedophile to smuggle a child to him in prison so he can get off one last time before his execution. In exchange for him not dobbing in one of his fellow kidnappers, no less. But don’t worry, folks, it’s not an actual child Phryne’s sacrificing to the gods of criminal obstruction of justice. It’s a physically underdeveloped adult lesbian who gets her rocks off turning tricks for pedos in prison. HOW VERY CONVENIENT THAT PHRYNE KNOWS ONE OF THOSE.
So yeah. I can’t tell if there are actual tonal problems there that should have been addressed or if I’m reading them as tonal problems because of the flippant treatment of things on my ick list. Either way, the book made me laugh more than it tried to make my eyebrows climb up past my hairline, and I’ll keep going with the series for now.