Taman Shud: A Phryne Fisher Mystery - Synopsis

At the end of Kerry Greenwood's book Taman Shud which investigates the mystery of the Somerton Man is a short story in which Phryne finds the body of the Somerton Man. The story is therefore set in 1948 and it is interesting to see how Phryne has matured as she would be 48 in this story. Kerry Greenwood herself says that other than not liking Dior's New Look Phryne would be as wonderful as ever.

Here is a synopsis of the story:

The story starts during the second world war and describes who rather than watching the Germans march on Paris Phryne escapes on a Plymouth bound fishing boat and heads to London. Phryne only decides to join the French Resistance when little ships starting bringing the wounded back from Dunkirk.

Phryne took the name the Black Cat – 'La Chatte Noir' and headed to Tours but the war had a hard effect on her streaking her hair with gray and causing wrinkles around her eyes. For Phryne the end of the war came not a moment too soon but she decided she could not head back to London as it had been destroyed in the war so instead she heads back to Australia and takes a holiday home in Adelaide where she can relax and be free of the nightmares of war.

So Phryne is distraught and angry when she discovers the body of a man on Somerton Beach. She recognises the man as a young German who had been captured by the Marquis and had refused to answer questions even under the threat of torture. Phryne realises that the man is older but it is the same face. Fighting back a sob Phryne tells herself to go up to one of the big houses and have the police called as it is not her dead man!

She notices that the body doesn't have a mark on it and there are no marks in the sand around his feet. It looks like the man has sat down not feeling well and died. She notices his clothes a brown suit, a top coat, white shirt and a tie tied with a Windsor knot which is still in place. Phryne sees the secret smile on the man's face and wonders what colour his eyes are. She then runs up the stairs of one of the houses and has them call the police.

Phryne returns home to Marie a 12 year old orphan she acquired in Carcassone after her parents were killed by a shell. As Marie was a Jew and there were no Jews left in town Phryne took her back to Australia with her. Marie sees Phryne's face and asks what the matter is. Phryne tells her about the man on the beach. Marie sees Phryne is shaken and offers her some tea with cognac.

At a pub on Hindley Street two man are sat at a table talking. The smaller darker man asks 'when does she leave' and his red headed companion Damien tells him 'evening'. The other man Brian asks him to waste a few words on him and asks which evening and Damien tells him tomorrow and it is words that got them into this mess. Brian agrees and asks if Damien is going. Damien says that he is and asks Brian if he is headed for Melbourne. Brian tells him yes on the morning train and asks if there is no sign of a suitcase. Damien says 'he probably left it at the station'. Brian tells him there is no sign and that they will probably raid the station that night and that he may have left it in a locker. He says they are not going to like it and Damien agrees. Brian says he is likely going to his death with the news of their failure and the men both leave.

Phryne has her tea and brandy and is taking a bath when the police arrive. The policewoman Constable Hammond. Phryne ask Marie to make a pot of tea and Marie baulks at the sight of the policewoman. Phryne explains that Marie had only seen people in uniform in the war and they all wanted to send her to Ravensbruck.
The policewoman asks for Phryne's account of finding the man on the beach and then tells Phryne that the bigwigs have told them that she was in the resistance during the war and asks if she knew the man. Phryne explains she doesn't know the man and has never seen him before and asks what
the big mystery is and WPC Hammond explains they don't know who the man is as there was no identification on his body, no labels on his clothes and nothing on his body except for a piece of paper with the words TAMAN SHUD written on. Phryne recalls they are the last words in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and mean the end and asks if it was a suicide but the policewoman says no as the pathologist can't find cause of death and it seems the man just sat down and died.

The policewoman says there is something about the man's face like he had a secret and died well but her sergeant says that is too fanciful. Phryne agrees with the policewoman and says she saw it too. She says according to the pathologist the man was very healthy and there was no reason for him to die.

Phryne says they should look at the mystery and discounts suicide as they normally leave a note. The policewoman says he only had the scrap of paper with Taman shud on it. Phryne asks if it was handwritten and the policewoman tells her it was torn from a book so Phryne says they need to find the book. She says the man has been searched as people could conceivably remove clothing labels for various reasons but everyone carries something in their pockets such as money or a travel ticket. Phryne asks how the man would have got to the beach and if he was wearing a watch. The policewoman says no. Phryne says it is no ordinary theft and if there was nothing wrong with the man why did he die. The policewoman says he could have been scared to death but Phryne says he did not look scared.

The policewoman finishes her tea and says she had heard of Phryne and her mystery solving before the war. She ask Phryne if she would help solve this mystery as she has any level of clearance and if she solves the mystery there may be a promotion for her. Phryne agrees and tells her to come back when she has more information. The policewoman leaves and Marie tells Phryne that the policewoman want to use her.

For two days Phryne resists the urge to call people she had known in France as she did not want to get involved and the papers were full of the mystery of the Somerton man. Phryne did not call until WPC Hammond return with a code and asked her if she was any good at code-breaking. Phryne says she was not involved in code breaking but contacts Bernard Cooper who had been at Bletchley during the war.

WPC Hammond shows Phryne the paper which looked like complete gibberish to her. The policewoman tells her the book found in a doctors car which was parked near the beach. The doctor found it the next morning and handed it in and the Taman Shud matches it. Phryne asks WPC Hammond if she's sure the code is all there as there is a strange cross over the O in the third line. Phryne tells WPC Hammond she will take the code to Bernard and not to worry about clearance as he had the highest clearance possible and worked on the Enigma code. Phryne tells her she should have an answer from Bernard in a day or two an asks if there is any other news. WPC Hammond tells her that she is not sure if it is connected but someone broke open in the lockers in the left luggage room at Adelaide Central Station. They didn't take anything but left luggage strewn everywhere. Phryne asks what they were looking for and WPC Hammond says she thinks it was a suitcase that the police had found earlier in the day. She says the suitcase did not contain any wallet, keys or passports but the clothes were the right size for the man and it contained a laundry bag with a name Kean or Keane stencilled on it. Other than that there was only the clothes, a toothbrush and shaving equipment that was all American made. Phryne says it may not have belonged to the man and asks if their were any initials and WPC Hammond says T or AE. She says she thinks it could have been Tony or Anthony E Keane but there is no one of that name missing in South Australia and they have not heard back from the other states yet. Phryne says that is promising and says she will go and see Bernard. She asks if there is anything more from the pathologist. WPC Hammond says no but the pathologist is convinced the man was murdered thought there are no poisons in his system but there are poisons that leave no trace. She says the pathologist is basing his theory on the man's face. Phryne says if he took poison there would be a bottle or paper but Hammond says he could have thrown it into the sea. Phryne says she will go and see about the code and call Hammond when she has an answer but Hammond tells her not to call and that she will return in two days.

Phryne calls Bernard Cooper and finds him home. Bernard is astounded she is there and invites her to dinner that night. Bernard asks if anything is the matter and Phryne says no but she has a puzzle for him. Bernard says he thought she was coming for the pleasure of his company and asks her to come now.

Phryne tells Marie she is going out and Marie tells her she too is heading out to the pictures with the greengrocer George. Phryne hops in her Sprite and drives up the hills to Bernard's House. Bernard is waiting for her when she arrives. Phryne notices that Bernard has aged and he thinks the same of her. Bernard invites her in and tells her he has champagne on ice. Bernard talks on and Phryne accuses him on babbling and asks what the matter is. Bernard tells her that he never thought he would get old. Phryne agrees but says she is not old yet. She tells Bernard to pour her a drink and says that he is still the same shaggy bear that she loved in London and she still loves him. Bernard says he still loves her and can not get her out of his mind. Phryne asks if Bernard is alone and asks after Stephanie. Bernard tells her Stephanie died of heart disease two years before. Bernard asks Phryne is she remembers how they used to talk about the hills and the wine during the blitz. He says Stephanie only got to enjoy it for a year before she passed away. Phryne takes his hand to comfort him and he tells her he is glad to see her so she kisses him. Bernard then asks about the puzzle. Phryne sense that the kiss started something that would take Bernard some time to adjust to Phryne produces the paper to show him. It reads:

mrgoadard mtbimpanetpmliaboaqc

Bernard says it is not an alphabet code and is probably a box code or an ETAIONSHRDLUCWME. Bernard asks where it was found. Phryne tells him it is the code found on the Taman Shud man. But Bernard doesn't get any news where he is and so doesn't know about the case. Bernard works on the code and Phryne leaves him to it and wanders through the house. Whilst she is wandering the house Phryne thinks that she liked Stephanie Bernard's deceased partner which is why she didn't persist in the affair with Bernard.

Phryne sits down to read some magazines when Bernard calls her in and tells her the code is unbreakable unless they have the codeword. Bernard asks if there is something she hasn't told him and Phryne says that the codeword is Taman Shud and she would like to make love with him. Bernard makes a note of the codeword and agrees to her second proposal hugging Phryne to him.

At the station WPC Hammond is drinking tea when a paper is thrown on her desk which she is told to circulate. She is told the tailor said the man was American or at least his clothes were made in America. Her superior asks if she has had any bright ideas but she says no and he tells her he doesn't know why women were let into the force. WPC Hammond responds frostily and her retracts his statements telling her to check all the ships to see if anyone has lost a crewman.

A young man leaves the railway and heads to the railway hotel for a beer. He is fair-haired and blue eyed and has a pale complexion. The barman asks if it is too hot for him and the man replies far too hot with a faint Canadian accent. The barman moves the man's hat which has PH marked on the band and the man asks for another beer and asks the barman if he will join him.

Phryne and Bernard are in bed, Phryne lifts her head of Bernard's chest and he groans. Phryne asks what the matter is and Bernard tells her he is remembering. He says bad memories always come back after good times and Phryne agrees so they swap memories. Phryne tells him about the young German soldier a Wehrmacht who had to be captured because he had information about when a train was coming in containing the Resistance prisoner Jean Moulin. Bernard recalls Jean Moulin was killed in Lyon by Klaus Barbie. Phryne says they did not know that then and she had to keep watch while the young man was questioned but he would not talk so they killed him.
Bernard tells her that he found a message when he was decoding that said 'Destroy Coventry'. He tells her he decoded it 12 hours before the bombers came and that he knew it would happen but did nothing as if he had warned Coventry then the Germans would know that the British could break their codes.

Phryne kisses Bernard and she asks him how he got a scar on his hip he says the blitz and asks how she got a scar on her thigh. She tells him a Gestapo man did not like her answers but she got away as she has friends. Bernard says he knows as Archie has been on the phone telling him to help her and make sure she doesn't get in trouble. Phryne asks what trouble she could get in in Adelaide and Bernard says as long as she hasn't bought her dead man with her. Phryne promises she hasn't. Bernard says he will get up and make tea and then they can solve the puzzle.

Bernard says that if they presume that Taman shud is the code word and look for the frequency of letters in the English language they should be able to solve it easily. Phryne asks what is the code is in a different language. Bernard says then they are in trouble. Bernard continues to try to solve the puzzle but finds it is not as easy as it looks. He gets AUR GT ST US AEK. Phryne tells him the dead man's initials are AEK and that GT could mean go to and ST could be station and that they may have been American which can count for the US. They ponder over the AUR and wonder if it could be gold as it is the Latin term for gold. They then look at the next line and get ANT in the middle which is probably proceeded by W making want. They work out the sender of the message appears to be WT K. They know that WT stands for wireless transmission so think K might be a person.

Phryne then asks Bernard is he is not going to tackle the rest of the letters and he tells her that is the macron. Phryne asks what this is and Bernard says that the O crossed out means that the message runs backwards from this point or the rest is gibberish. Bernard reads on and is puzzled. He asks Phryne if she did any code reading during her time in the resistance and she says none. He asks her is she has heard of the Irish/Nazi connection and she says no. Bernard tells her that he was working for a while on transmissions that Nazi's sent to the IRA. Bernard tells her there was always one name that came up when any killing needed to be done and shows her the message which now read: AUR GT ST US AEK WANT P- ENA – WT K. Bernard tells her the killers were two brothers Patrick and Michael Heaney and that the Germans don't like double vowels so called them Henay. There code name was P and M Henay and that he think K might be P Henay.

The young man approaches the station as the Melbourne train is getting ready to depart. He approaches a small dark man and asks where the money is. Brian tells him he used the stuff but the man wouldn't tell and just upped and died. The young man says goodbye Brian and pushes him under the train and walks away without being noticed.

Phryne says that if Bernard is right they should call someone. Phryne calls Archie and tells him that Patick Heaney is in their midst. Archie tells them about the accident at the railway with Brian Sean Ryan and says he will look for Patrick. Phryne asks if he knows him and Archie says yes and asks if they have told anyone else. Phryne tells him Bernard and that her companion knows where she is. Archie asks if they have told anyone official and Phryne says yes WPC Hammond. Archie asks if she is coming back to Adelaide and Phryne says not that night so Archie tells her he will have it cleared up by the morning and when she comes back she should call on him.

When she gets of the phone Phryne asks Bernard who Archie is. Bernard tells her he is in parliament and he will come with her if she wants but he doesn't got to the city often. Phryne tells him to stay where he is and she will come and join him on occasion. Bernard says that sounds lovely and says he will write out the message and then they should go back to bed.

Sir Archibald Donaldson calls WPC Hammond who listens stunned that he is calling her. She hands the phone to her sergeant who agrees to what Archie asks him and when he gets off the phone tells her she is on loan to the Funny People and as far as he is concerned they can keep her.

When Hammond arrives at Archie's office he tells her that her dead man had some nasty friends. He says she will be shown a lot of pictures and she should say if she recognises anyone as her chief says she has a photographic memory. Hammond sorts out 3 pictures which she hands to Archie as people she recognises. The first is of a red-headed man and the second a small dark man. She says she saw them outside the railway hotel together the day before. The third a blonde man with blue eyes she said she saw on Rundle street that morning.

Archie tells her who the men are and says they will head off to where she saw Heaney that morning with back up and see if they can find him. Hammond finds Damien easily and the backup walk him away down the street but as he is walking he is shot by a sniper by a pale young man. They drag him into a side road and he asks for a priest so one of the attendants runs to get one. They ask him about the man on the beach and he tells them that the new stuff which was meant to be truth serum killed him. He says the man Keane was running and had incepted a message which told him they were on to him so he hid the suitcases and they never found out where. He then asks again for a priest and after one has been fetched and performed the last rite he dies.

The next day Phryne, Hammond and Archie gather in Archie's office. Phryne tells Archie that the man knew they were onto him so left clues to solve his murder then went to the meeting having hidden a suitcase full of what must have been the IRA's money. They shot him with scopolamine into his scalp so no mark showed. It is meant to be a truth drug but some people have a sensitivity to it and he died. Phryne is frustrated that he died without revealing where the money is and says they should ride the tram tot he beach is she hasn't been there for ages. Archie agrees grumpily.

They get to Somerton beach and exit the tram. Archie asks what they are doing there and Phryne says going paddling or at least she is. Phryne heads down to where Hammond first saw the man and dug in the sand. Phryne says she wondered why the man would sit there and also where he would leave something valuable to him and there's nowhere safer than under your feet. Phryne scrapes away the sand and finds a suitcase. She tells Archie to lift it carefully as these things are sometime booby trapped but there appears to be no wires coming from it.

Phryne asks Archie is he will open it but he says no as he notices thick yellow smoke coming from the case. He tells them he would never have got it open as they always contain a phosphorus bomb to destroy the contents but he is not worried as he knows the contents would have been cheques from prominent members of the Melbourne Irish community.

Hammond asks what will happen to the murderer and Archie says he will get his comeuppance at some point. She then asks about the Taman Shud mystery and he tells her it will remain a mystery but her police work has been essential and he expects to see her rise high in her profession quite soon. Archie then asks Phryne if she would care to have lunch with him but she tells him she has another engagement and takes Dulcie Hammond for a quiet drink and a good lunch.

After lunch Phryne heads home and pours herself a good glass of red wine. She recalls Keanes smug looking face and realises it has lost its intensity. She then call forth the image of the German soldier and realises she no longer feels pains about the incident. So although the Taman Shud incident had a disappointing ending it obliterated bad memories from her mind.

Phryne was lying in the sun sipping wine when she receives a telegraph from Bernard congratulating her and telling her that the last phrase in Rubaiyat Taman Shud means an unsolvable mystery and asking her to come back to him soon.

Phyrne picks up her copy of the Rubaiyat opening it a random and reading a paragraph and then calls Marie for more wine

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