Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

(Australia, 2012)

Kerry Greenwood is an Australian writer who has so far penned twenty mystery novels about the formidable Phryne (Fry-knee) Fisher, a private detective in 1928 Melbourne. These stories and some new scripts have been made into two seasons of TV shows that Lee and I have found addictive. (I am also working my way through the novels, which are nice.)

Phryne is, some media critic said, “The best thing to come out of Australia since Nicole Kidman.” I agree. She is wonderfully played by Essie Davis, in a lavishly designed and costumed recreation of the Roaring Twenties Down Under, when Melbourne looks like something between a large town and a small city, not the metropolis it is today. She is a completely liberated flapper, and for the first time in my life I totally noticed the clothes. She dresses outrageously, and is always stunning with her Dutch bob black hair, her red lips, which she can twist into the sexiest smiles I’ve seen in a long time, and fetching ‘20s millinery. I don’t think she ever wears the same dress or pants twice in the whole series.

These are, in a sense, old-fashioned murder mysteries, with clues and multiple suspects and red herrings and so forth, but Phryne is no Miss Marple. She carries a knife in her garter and a pearl-handled, gold-plated .32 in her handbag, and is not the least bit shy about using either of them. She dislikes babies, plans to never marry, and takes a long series of handsome lovers into her bed. Oh, and did I mention she is quite wealthy? However, she and her family were poverty-stricken until so many young heirs died in the Great War that the Fishers came into titles and money. (She is the Hon. Phryne Fisher.) She knows privation, and she knows luxury, and much prefers luxury while still remembering her roots. She served as a nurse in the war, and so is totally calm about viewing gruesome murder scenes. She saw much worse in the field hospitals. Though she is small and slender, she knows how to fight, ride, and is a fearless pilot. She drives a red 1922 Hispano-Suiza, one of the largest, fastest, and most expensive cars of its day, and collects a huge number of speeding tickets. Her work takes her into circuses, film studios, low dives and high society, and she is comfortable in all those settings. And you can always count on her being the smartest person in any room she enters.

All this glamour is ably supported by the other characters. Her household staff is a butler named Mr. Butler, and Dot, her faithful (if nervous) maid-seamstress-companion. She has two irregulars, Bert and Cec, communist cab drivers who run errands for her. There are two cops. Inspector Jack Robinson is no dope but is usually a step behind Phryne, and there is a lot of sexual tension between them. And there is PC Collins, an earnest young man who is courting and eventually engaged to Dot. Rounding out the cast is the redoubtable Miriam Margoyles as Aunt Prudence. We zipped through the two existing seasons at the rate of two or three per night, and now are eagerly awaiting the third season, which is currently filming.