Violet Kelly and the Jade Owl by Fiona Britton
What an absolute delight this book is! It’s a fabulous romp through 1930s Sydney, in the company of our feisty and indomitable Violet Kelly and her ‘family’ who live and work at the upscale brothel known as La Maison des Fleurs. I chortled all the way through, sometimes laughing out loud. It’s so refreshing to read a book that sings with banter and good humour.
When we first meet Violet she has been safely ensconced in La Maison des Fleurs for two years, and has just celebrated her 18th birthday. She loves working for Madame who has provided a safe and luxurious home for her girls. They are located in a well-heeled corner of Paddington, not far from the razor gangs of Darlinghurst and Kings Cross.
Violet has been showered with natural gifts: ‘those legs, the Folies Burgere smile’. But as Madame says, ‘Violet Kelly’s got gifts the mirror doesn’t reveal: she’s as shrewd as a brown snake….she’s picked up a bank manager’s tact, a pirate’s cunning and an alley cat’s knack for landing on her feet’.
When Madame is forced to hide a kidnapped girl by a former associate, Violet and her friends rally to rescue the girl and release Madame from her obligation to a notorious gangster. As they enter into a risky game of cat and mouse, we also learn about Violet’s sad past, and why she is estranged from her twin sister, Iris.
When you look at the hard times that is the setting for this book, you’d expect it to be depressing, but it’s anything but. Britton doesn’t shy away from the extreme poverty, cruelty and deprivation that many souls experienced at this time in Sydney, but she chooses to look for the light in the darkness. I galloped through this book, and sincerely hope that Britton will bless us with more adventures with Violet Kelly.