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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

THE DELIGHTS OF MURDER AND MISS FISHER

Few things bring more joy to a longtime voracious reader than discovering a delightful new (to them) fictional character in a well written novel by an established author who has hitherto slipped below their book gobbling radar. What makes the find even better is if the book turns out to be the first in a series with nineteen more tomes to read!

These rare discoveries can come in several ways…a recommendation from a friend (hardly ever suits your taste), a review in an obscure publication (hit and miss), surfing through Amazon listings (sometimes), or even stumbling across one in a used bookstore (the most rewarding).

None of the above, however, apply to the impetus that made me delve into the first of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries. In this case, I had been hearing distant raves about Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, an Australian television series unavailable via American television or cable networks.

These rumors of the special delights presented by Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries continued to circulate, while I waited patiently for the series to turn up on PBS’ Mystery, BBC America, or possibly A/E – who I happened to be boycotting ever since they cancelled Longmire.  The rumors spoke of  gorgeously produced, well written, episodes starring actress Essie Davis, who it was said couldn’t be a better match for the iconoclastic feminist sleuth Phryne Fisher – a lady detective operating in 1920’s Melbourne. I was more and more intrigued.

An online search turned up information and photos of the series. It looked and sounded great – but still no planned US release. I saw Acorn TV (which carries a lot of British and European shows) was streaming an episode, but you could only see five minutes worth without signing up for a monthly subscription fee. I was still intrigued, but not monthly subscription fee intrigued.

Finally, the inevitable DVD release made its debut on Amazon. I quickly snaffled it up and found myself hooked from the very first episode. The show’s tag line sum it up: Who says crime doesn’t play?

What a delight – frothy but never silly, tart but never pretentious, with smart dialogue, great character actors in supporting roles, and plots that hold together without being too simple or sordid.


The production was as advertised: The sets, the cars, the planes, and – I’m not to macho to mention – the costumes. Plus, Essie Davis was a revelation. So too – but to a lesser degree perhaps – was Nathan Page who portrays Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, Miss Fisher’s long suffering, efficient, and smitten police foil. 

The relationship between these two characters is at the heart of the show – driving fans into a frenzy of support when the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company) network made noises about cancelling the show after two seasons, for all the nonsensical reasons networks cancel popular shows (refer to A/E and Longmire above). A third season was eventually commissioned and Miss Fisher carries on toward 1930.

As season three of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries premiered in Australia,  Phryne Fisher fever seemed to become contagious Down Under. There were costume exhibits, themed luncheons, and premiere parties. All of which I totally understood and would have enjoyed participate in had I been in Melborne. 


All of this is a very longwinded journey to get to the point that the television show was so good, I couldn’t resist at least trying the first book in the series – which really wasn’t even close to the normal genre sweet spot of my reading habits. I wa wary as I know, from prior experiences, if you love a book then a television series or movie based on it most often disappoints. Conversely, if you love a movie or television series, the books they are based on usually pale by comparison. In the case of Miss Fisher, the television series had really caught my imagination, and I didn’t think there was a chance the books would live up to my expectations. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

At this point, I’ve finished the third Phryne Fisher book from author Kerry Greenwood and have listen to the excellent audio version of two others. The television series is one of the best book to screen translations I’ve ever come across. Greenwood’s writing is assured and has the light yet substantial touches the television series has captured so well. I’m hooked and am already freaking out because I only have fifteen more book titles, and eight shows from season three of the television series, to go.

Reading and viewing experiences like this are like shooting stars – brilliant, amazing, and gone too fast. When they've disappeared, it’s back on the hunt for more elusive treasures.


DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND CLICK HERE TO VISIT KERRY GREENWOOD’S PHRYNE FISHER WEBSITE 

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE TELEVISION SERIES