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Phryne Fisher Binge Read

July 21, 2015

A while ago, Lisa suggested that I try watching Miss Fisher’s Murder mysteries, an Australian crime drama set in the 1920’s. She assured me that it had many things I would like: crimes solved by an amateur sleuth, snark and banter, terrific 1920’s fashions, sexiness, and a great supporting cast of chosen-family eccentric characters.

Lisa knows me very, very well. In I dove, and before I knew it, I’d zoomed delightedly through the first season of Miss Phryne Fisher’s adventures. As I got into the second season, and saw the stretch of new episodes dwindling before me, I was brought up short. What would happen when I ran out of new episodes to watch? Time to save them for special occasions.

And then I chanced to see that a GoodReads friend had given 5 stars to a book she was reading… a Phryne Fisher mystery? Could it be? And were they available from my library?

It turns out that the murder mysteries I have such fun watching got their start as a series of novels by Kerry Greenwood, a delightfully prolific Australian author. The books offer up much of what I love about watching the show: The great characters, Miss Fisher, the glamorous flapper who’s not afraid to dig in and solve a gritty crime, dry wit from Mr. Butler, a foil for Miss Fisher in the basically demure Dot, banter from Chief Inspector Jack Robinson.

Having come to the books from the TV show, I can say it’s amazingly well cast, with actors faithful to the look and style of the characters, actors who have excellent chemistry with one another, and seem to enjoy each other as well as the characters they portray.

Transitioning from screen to book and vice-versa, there are, of course a few trade-offs. While Greenwood does describe the sumptuous colors of Phryne Fisher’s elegant wardrobe, seeing the glamorous fashions onscreen is so much more fun. However, on the page you get some of the interior life of the characters: mostly Miss Fisher’s thoughts (whether studying a crime or plotting her next conquest) but also glimpses of what Dot and Butler and Jane and the rest are thinking. I thoroughly enjoy Greenwood’s wit and snark on the page… so much so, that, at various points, I giggled out loud and had to read passages aloud to share them.

As much as I like the glitter and wit of both screen-Phryne and Book-Phryne and friends, I think what I like best about these mysteries is their warmth… Warmth seems like a funny word to apply to a series that deals in dead bodies. But there it is. Phryne Fisher might be changeable in her romantic allegiances, but the friendships in her extended/chosen family are devoted and steadfast.

I guess these count as cozy mysteries? I’ve always had trouble with the term- it conjures cloying visions of cats and sweaters that would clash with Miss Fisher’s fabulous silk dresses. But I like my mysteries best when they have a solid heart. it doesn’t have to be some kind of syrupy True Love Romance. A good team-friendship is my ideal. And some snark in the sweetness. Cozy’s a weird word. Can I have a new one? (That’s a line of thought for a whole other post.)

So, I can say that, whether you choose book or screen, the adventures of Phryne Fisher are a delightful and worthwhile binge.

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