STARRED REVIEW
August 03, 2021

Autumn Leaves, 1922

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Phryne Fisher fans will fall in love with Kiki Button, the gossip columnist and sleuth of Autumn Leaves, 1922 by Tessa Lunney.

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Phryne Fisher fans will fall in love with Kiki Button, the gossip columnist and sleuth of Autumn Leaves, 1922 by Tessa Lunney. While this historical mystery can easily be read as a standalone, odds are readers will immediately seek out Kiki’s first adventure, April in Paris, 1921, after being enchanted by Lunney’s charismatic heroine.

Kiki has returned to her beloved Paris after a year spent sorting through her late mother’s estate in Australia. Kiki is struggling under the weight of her grief, both for the mother she never really understood and for a world that’s still recovering from the traumas of World War I. As a wartime nurse and spy, Kiki personally witnessed indescribable suffering, and those images have stayed with her.

She’s looking forward to returning to her glamorous life, reporting on parties and society scandals, but she finds herself pulled back into the world of espionage by her former handler, Fox. Fox holds evidence that could clear Kiki’s childhood friend and current lover from charges of desertion and treason, and he uses this to force Kiki back into his shadowy world. Using her society connections, Kiki must diffuse a scandal related to the growing fascist movement in Europe, which could implicate the Prince of Wales.

As engaging and suspenseful as Kiki’s mission is, Lunney makes the mystery of the mother Kiki barely knew equally fascinating. As she reads her late mother’s diaries, Kiki realizes that the woman who always seemed cold and distant was actually living a secret life not unlike Kiki’s own.

Kiki rubs shoulders with artists, deposed Russian princes and expats like Ernest Hemingway, all while keeping a bevy of lovers on standby. Seemingly living on a diet consisting solely of cigarettes and champagne, she navigates high society, the bohemian art scene and the Paris underworld with ease. Lunney’s prose is beautifully atmospheric, capturing a collective sense of postwar trauma but also hope as Europe enters a new age.

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