Double whammy (and a half): review of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the sequel series Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, and a note about the book series that sparked them.
First, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. Yes, I’ve watched the TV series before reading the books. However, that is how I found out about the books. And, besides, I like it enough to get the books, so all sins forgiven, right?
In this post I’ll cover the various bits of the franchise (big word), but I assure you they’re all worth it. It won’t be in quite the usual format, but rather my thoughts about each bit.
Phryne Fisher is a private detective and general woman of adventure, operating in Melbourne, Australia, in the late 1920’s. She is comes from interesting background, having grown poor but her father eventually inheriting a British title, and ends up speaking multiple languages, able to pick locks, drive fast, and even fly a plane. Also, an absolutely impeccable taste in clothes (though less so in men). In short, exactly what you’d expect from a period detective who pushes the boundaries into just what might be plausible to make that “cool character”.
As for the mysteries, the again proceed exactly like you’d expect in a Golden Age detective. My wife and I, being fans of Christie and her ilk, know the unofficial ‘rules’ of the genre and much enjoy unpacking the mysteries as they play out. Many a fist-bump were exchanged over tea and cake as we were binge-watching.
Add a varied cast of characters and a romantic tension that never quite resolves with the very charming police detective (as well as one that does, between Phryne’s aide and the constable), and you have the recipe for a wonderful watch for a few evenings.
Following the success of the series, a full length movie came out later. This one sees Phryne travelling across Britain, Palestine, and Egypt, in search of ancient curses and lost treasures.
Most of the cast of the series doesn’t appear here, and somehow, though all the trappings of the genre are there, I found the movie not quite carry the same charm and appeal.
Still worth the watch for completeness sake, and luckily there’s a better spin-off.
Ms Peregrine Fisher is Phryne’s niece (via an estranged sister). When her aunt disappears over the jungles of Borneo, she ends up inheriting the family fortune. Together with it comes membership at the Adventuress Club of the Antipodes, and another eclectic cast of characters.
While this isn’t based on books, the producers have wisely chosen another period of history that reflected the same vibes of exuberance and freedom, and achieved the same charm as the original series. (Even if the romantic interest here is a bit more, err, successful).
The first season has 4 episodes, almost movie length each. The second season has 8 at 45 minutes each, and while we found the mystery aspect somewhat lacking due to the shortened format it’s again a highly entertaining and recommended watch for lovers of the genre.
The book series is 21 novels, with an extra collection of short stories. They aren’t terribly long reads, each under 200 pages (as is common in the genre). I got a set of the first five for my wife and I to read. The original series seem to follow the first few books in each episode, and later seasons diverge a bit.
So far it looks very promising. If you’re a fan of the old Poirot series, Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham, and cosy mysteries in general, I’m sure you’ll love this as well — whether you start with the books or the novels.
For the curious, Felix — while he finds the liberated women of the 20’s and 60’s somewhat daunting — did enjoy the stories as well. Some mysteries he called pretty early and some he got wrong till the final twist, but he generally agreed with Phryne’s somewhat loose attitudes towards law, order, and where she’s allowed or not to go. He certainly approves of detectives poking their noses under any ruse in order to expose killers and find justice, and using any tool in their arsenal to do so.
Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He’s the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.