Thursday, January 14, 2021

The irresistible Miss Phryne Fisher

If you haven't been introduced to Kerry Greenwood's twenty-one book cozy mystery series set in 1920s Melbourne, Australia, you are in for a treat. I streamed the entire series and read all the books in 2020.

Phrynne Fisher (pronounced fry-nee) is a delightful amateur sleuth. Her war experience and intelligence work make her capacity for finding trouble believable. Her rags to unexpected riches backstory means Phrynne is free to do as she pleases and does not care who she offends. She returns to Australia from England, after a brief post war detour as a bohemian in Paris, to set up shop as a detective. In the television series, the costumes and sets are a feast for the eyes.

The first television series follows the books fairly closely, with two exceptions I will discuss later. The writers were successful in maintaining the characters and feel of the books in the subsequent cases.

Relationships in the books are slightly different than in the series. In the books, Phrynne's butler, Mr. Butler, is married and his wife is the cook and housekeeper. I assume they cut her to limit the cast and make more work for Phrynne's maid Dot Williams. Dot and her beau, officer Hugh Collins, play a significant part in both books and TV.

The second departure from the books is more interesting. In the books, Inspector John "call me Jack" Robinson is a happily married orchid grower. In the television series, Jack is unhappily married then divorced and free to declare his love for Phrynne. There was no romantic entanglement in the books.

The adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, and cabbies/war veterans Bert and Cec are part of the crime solving gang in both books and TV.

The television series invented a sister, Janey, that was kidnapped and murdered when Phrynne was young and sets up a motive for Phrynne's determination to seek justice. In the books, Phrynne had a younger sister that died of diphtheria which may have been the inspiration for the fictional Janey. 

Phrynne's mother and father were very much alive in the books. In The Castlemaine Murders, Phrynne's younger sister Eliza/Beth is introduced and a brother Thomas, who is studying at Eton, is mentioned. Eliza moved to Melbourne to escape her parents and chooses to live with a lesbian partner and the two work together on feminist issues.

Phrynne is devoted to free love and does not hesitate to have carnal relations with any man she sets her sights on. She deplores the loss of so many "beautiful boys" during the war. She has an affair with Lin Chung in the books and series, even after he is married.

Phrynne's sexual exploits lead to two of the book plots that were changed for the television series. In book #16 Murder in the Dark, Phrynne attends an orgy called The Last Best Party. The series kept the idea of the costume party, but omitted the prominent sex and drugs.

In book #5 The Green Mill Murder, Phrynne flies her Gypsy Moth Rigel into the Autralian Alps to see Vic, a veteran with PTSD. There is a dog called Lucky and a wombat living under his bunk. Phrynne stays for quite a while, enjoying the solitude and the sex before returning to real life. The television episode with the title focused on the murder at a Jazz club. There is a brief flight to meet up with Vic, portrayed as former love interest and heir to an estate, to ask him to return. Longing glances are the only thing exchanged in the episode.

A spinoff, Ms Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries, was broadcast in 2019. The series features Peregrine Fisher, explained as the daughter of  a half- sister, Annabelle, who was the result of an affair by Phrynne’s father.  I am not sure why the series creators ignored Phrynne's existing fictional family, all of whom would have made more sense as heirs. At the very least, if the rest of the family had died, it could have been Thomas's daughter. Ah, well, ours is not to reason why.

Peregrine inherits Phrynne's estate when Phrynne goes missing. With the help of the Adventuress's Club, Peregrine, played by Geraldine Hakewill, continues her aunt's penchant for investigation.

I highly recommend the books and the television series. The wonderful Australian actress Essie Davis portrays Phrynne to perfection. After the third series, Essie's move to London made filming complicated. She agreed to a movie, The Crypt of Tears, released in 2020. Will there be another movie? Status unknown, but I hope so. 

Greenwood has said on her Facebook page that she is working on a new Miss Fisher book, release date unknown.

Phryne Fisher Books In Order 

Phryne Fisher Television Series 

Miss Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

1 comment :

  1. I just discovered this series this year on television and have been told the books are even better (and more spicy). I love knowing I have that many yet to read/watch because I love Phryne Fisher.


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