Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012-2015) are presently a super hot property, thank you Australian television! I am absolutely and utterly addicted, so much so that after finishing all the episodes I could get my hands on (three seasons, there must be more, though there is talk of a film!), I turned to the books. Did you know there were books?
Kerry Greenwood started publishing them in 1987. When I think of 1980s mysteries, I don’t exactly think “forward-looking, feminist, revolutionary,” especially for books about 1920s Australia. BUT that is exactly what you get.
The first novel, Cocaine Blues, was a curious journey for me. I only knew Miss Phryne Fisher from the screen, so meeting her on the page was an entirely different experience. I thought she was obnoxious.
Which is crazy, because I love her on-screen. So I wondered, which character did I love, Phryne or Essie Davis’s portrayal of Phryne? By the time I finished the novel, it turns out I liked both of them quite fine, but in meeting Our Heroine on the page, she’s annoying, because she doesn’t fail at anything. Perhaps that’s part of the on-screen charm; Phryne does fail, she gets in trouble, and she’s scared of something Very Mundane (which Jack never lets her forget).
Still, I’m impressed with how the show runners have translated the book into a series. It’s rather amazing, given that much of what happens on the show doesn’t happen on the screen. Take for instance our description of Detective-Inspector Jack Robinson from Cocaine Blues:
“Your names, please,” he said in a carefully unmodulated voice. The man was colorless, with mid-brown hair, mid-brown eyes, and nothing noticeable about him at all.
JACK? I thought as I read. That cannot be, because — well. Look:
Look at his face.
In the first novel, our Detective-Inspector is fairly absent, and certainly has no fireworks with Miss Fisher (which I understand is an ongoing lack). So I applaud the show’s writers and Nathan Page and Essie Davis for the actual FIRE that jumps out of my television screen every time Jack occupies it, and every time Jack and Phryne try to deny the lust that is rampaging between them. It’s a wonderful addition and startling, because it’s not in the first book at all.
The other thing that translates well is Phryne’s wardrobe. The book places a focus there, and the show carries it splendidly forward. If you’ve watched the show, you’ll recognize her clothing as you read about it. The time period is all lovingly rendered, and Phryne becomes less obnoxious as the book goes on — or maybe I just got used to her paper self…
If you’re a fan of the show, pick up the first book at the very least, to see how Miss Fisher began. Dot’s in there, Bert and Cec too, but there’s no sign of Hugh as of yet. (There’s also a policewoman! Extraordinary.)