Although I am a lifelong fan of mystery stories (with, as you'll recall, a particular love of Sherlock Holmes), I am quite picky when it comes to the type of mysteries I like to read. I insist, of course, on a cracking-good story -- but it's just as important to me that the characters be well-written and engaging. If I'm not interested in the characters, it won't matter how good a puzzle the plot may be.
So finding the Phryne Fisher series has been pretty terrific.
The books are set in the Roaring Twenties -- and, indeed, part of the pleasure of reading them is the amount of research of the period that author Kerry Greenwood has undertaken. Our heroine, Phyrne Fisher, is an aristocrat with an unusual past: she was born into poverty in Melbourne, Australia. Her father had a far-removed relative of nobility, but it wasn't until several of the gentlemen between her father and the title died off that Phyrne's father was able to inherit. Phryne now finds herself with an official title ("the Honourable Phyrne Fisher"), a vast fortune, and a life of opportunities available to her.
After spending some years in London, she returns to Australia at the request of one of her fellow aristocrats, who have hired her to track down their daughter and rescue her from her husband (who they believe may be poisoning her). The case is recounted in the first book in the series, Cocaine Blues, which contains not only a crackling good puzzle with lots of twists and turns, but also introduces the reader to Phryne and her new family. Because, as it turns out, a life in Australia suits Phryne after all.
Phyrne has been described by her author as a female take on James Bond; her skills range from solving mysteries to flying planes. She's poised and eminently stylish, and has a zeal for adventure that befits an unofficial P.I. But she is also possessed of an incredibly huge heart, and she quickly fills her large Australian house with a new family: Dot, her official maid and unofficial "Dr. Watson," who Phryne rescued from a life on the streets; and her two adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, who she rescues from orphaned poverty and slavery. She also has a romantic interest or three, although Phryne has no intention of settling down ...
It's precisely her mixture of independence and kindness, of stubbornness and compassion, that makes Phryne such a rich and engaging character. It also makes her quite a lot of fun to read about, making the Phryne Fisher series one that any mystery fan may want to take out for a spin.
She also has a tendency to drive too fast. Like, really too fast. Don't try this at home.
1. Cocaine Blues
2. Flying Too High
3. Murder on the Ballarat Train
4. Death at Victoria Dock
5. The Green Mill Murder
6. Blood and Circuses
7. Ruddy Gore
8. Urn Burial
9. Raisins and Almonds
10. Death Before Wicket
11. Away with the Fairies
12. Murder in Montparnasse
13. The Castlemaine Murders
14. Queen of the Flowers
15. Death by Water
16. Murder in the Dark
17. Murder on a Midsummer Night
18. Dead Man's Chest
19. Unnatural Habits
20. Murder and Mendelssohn
- A Question of Death [short story collection]
- Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: Series One [DVD]
- Series One on Blu-ray
- Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: Series Two [DVD]
"He sounds like he might bear more investigation," said Dot.
"Did he fancy her?" asked Ruth. "It might be a tale of forbidden love."
"I swear, Ruth, one day I am going to make a little bonfire of all the romance novels in the world," said Phryne without rancour. "Actually, it would have to be a very big bonfire. Perhaps I could rent a volcano and drop them in from the air. Honestly."
-- from Unnatural Habits
-- Post by Ms. B