Regular readers will know that I’ve grown tired of murders in mysteries. It’s true that a show about tax code violations will probably not last beyond the pilot, but there are still a ton of other mysteries to write, or to adapt into a show or movie that don’t have to end in a body count.
Murder has so saturated the genre that producers don’t even bother hide the fact. We have Midsommer Murders, The Miss Fisher Murders, How To Get Away With Murder. Then comes the challenge of making the murder so elaborate and contrived that you would still have to have been born the previous morning not to see it coming.
Take The Doctor Blake Mysteries, or as I like to call it, Australian Sherlock Holmes. In the last episode I watched, it was a no-brainer that the flowers were the murder weapon. As soon as I figured it out within the space of the show’s teaser, I had to spend forty-five minutes waiting for the titular character to come to the same conclusion.
So why have I started to read The Phryne Fisher Mysteries? Because I know that the author doesn’t always have creative control of their work once it’s been optioned for film or television. With that in mind, I tried to get in to Caroline Graham’s DCI Baranaby, series only to be put off by the rapid change in POV among an overwhelming cast of characters in the first few pages of chapter one. However, Kerry Greenwood’s novels were surprisingly fast paced and so enthralling that after reading The Queen of Flowers, selected at random, I was in the library so quickly that I was afraid the Australian government might put a ban on the series if they ever found out how addicted I became.
The highlights are simple. Phryne Fisher came to Australia after some incident left her family financially well off. She was originally engaged to solve a crime, after which she decided to start putting detective down on her tax returns. She has a loyal maid named Dot, a butler and a cook named, er, Mr. and Mrs. Butler. There are two men named Bert and Cec, who frequently assist Phyrne with the more complicated fringes of her case (particularly in areas where it’s easier for two men to move than a 1920’s flapper). Her ally within the police force is a Detective Jack Robinson. She has two adopted daughters named Jane and Ruth, who later also adopt a cat named Ember and a dog named Molly. She is kind hearted, level headed, and has no problem using an ample amount of violence and coercion against bullies and cutthroats, particularly those who have committed crimes of indecency towards women.
Obviously the series left out a few things. It’s as if the producers read Kerry Greenwoods novels and thought, “Lets just focus on the fact that she’s a 1920’s lady detective who has a lot of sex.”
It’s true. Phryne Fisher is very comfortable with her sexuality, which might fly in the face of the puritans who believe that all women should keep their legs closed until marriage, but Phryne has no plans on that anytime soon. It is the constant parade of new lovers in every book that makes me think of her less as the female Sherlock Holmes and more like the female James Bond.
The villains range from dangerously clever to dangerously stupid. Although the main mystery can be murder, Phryne Fisher is also called on to help investigate kidnappings, heft, and other crimes that are peppered through out each of the books. And reading the series, knowing that it takes place in 1920’s Australia, I never get the impression that Greenwood is projecting a 20/21st century mindset onto another time. Phryne Fisher is a well rounded, unpredictable character, who surrounds herself with loyal companions who compliment her in their own unique ways, so that it never surprises us that she knows someone completely different in every walk of life. My biggest disappointment in the television series is that they pretty much lock her into Jack Robinson as a relationship, even though I really see him as more of a trusted colleague and police liaison to Miss Fisher. Also they’ve left out Mrs. Butler, Jane, and Ruth.
I chose The Queen of Flowers at random, not knowing what to expect. Then I moved on to Raisins and Almonds. I read them out of order and the stories stand well enough on their own, but there are certain long running plot elements will be spoiled if you choose to read these first. I haven’t found Cocaine Blues, the first book of the series, but I did read the second book, which is titled Flying Too High. This book eludes to the events of the first one without giving anything away, but it’s not such a leap into the future of events in the series that you wind up being confused.