Have you heard of Phryne Fisher? If not, I beg you to consider meeting her soon. She’s fabulous. Amazing even.
And even better, there are 18 books in the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood, so once you finish one, you have 17 others to divert your attention. I just finished reading the first book, “Cocaine Blues”, though I have read many others in this series. I do love that you can read these books out of order and not be lost. Basically all you need to know is that Phryne is a unique individual who has lots of money and amuses herself by being a private detective in 1920s Melbourne.
Yes, it’s an Australia murder mystery series, set in the age of flappers, cloches, gasper cigarettes, gangsters and sleek bobs. There is a wide array of characters, from the unflappable lady companion Dot to the affable Communist cabbies Cecil and Bert. Phryne’s unapologetic sexual appetite also means that she has a succession of lovers, including the reoccurring lovely and exotic Lin Chung.
“Cocaine Blues” takes us back to England, where Phryne is living with her parents and extremely bored. Having done some interesting things in the war and spending a while living in Paris has broadened her education and she is an intelligent, direct and very stylish lady. She is asked by family friends to investigate their daughter who is living in Australia, as they fear from her letters that something is wrong. Taking an ocean liner to the Lucky Country, she arrives in a young Melbourne that is colonial but vibrant. And it’s there that the real adventures begin.
I have several reasons that I love this book and the entire series so much. Firstly, the history of Australia that I studied in school never included this era. This is a city of people who are only just getting used to the use of the telephone and still hire domestic staff to run their great houses. Phryne calls attention to herself not only through her promiscuity but by her decidedly mannish hobbies of driving (she owns a race car, which she drives like she stole it) and flying (having learnt to pilot a Tiger Moth somewhere in her colourful past). She’s stylish, quick of wit, an amazing judge of character and knows how to talk to anyone in any level of society. I thoroughly enjoy the level of detail that Greenwood puts into these books, whether it be describing the minutiae of domestic life or the vibrant atmosphere of a jazz club.
Is Phryne a bit of a Mary Sue? Probably. Unusal name? Tick. Uniquely beautiful? Tick. Able to handle a gun or knife, or fight off a grown man? Tick. But I forgive her anyway, because she’s just so cool.
I recommend these books to anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery or a love of the 1920s era. And in exciting news, some smart person has picked up the books and written some screenplays, resulting in the ABC1 series “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”, premiering this Friday 24th February at 8.30pm. I know I’ll be watching!
Purchase “CocaineBlues” from Book Depository (affiliate link). Free shipping worldwide.