Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Cosy with Crime

[My thoughts on the Australian Drama TV Series, which was released in 2012. I think it’s still available on Netflix.]

The first time I watched Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries was a few years ago but I’ve since rewatched the entire series so many times and it has become one of my favourite titles on Netflix. The title is dead giveaway – this is a show about a woman who solves murder mysteries. It really is as simple as that but I must say that it’s done very well. The story is set in Melbourne’s Jazz era where it’s not just the tempo that has picked up; the economy, technology and individualism all seem to be on the rise.

P1In this exciting period of change and modernism lives our protagonist, the Honourable Miss Phryne (pronounced “fry-knee”) Fisher. She’s a classic flapper of the Roaring Twenties and she’s not afraid to flaunt it. This impeccably dressed woman has time, money and intellect to spare, and she makes a business out of solving murders. Well, at least she says it’s business, although most of the time, she’s just helping out friends, relatives and acquaintances of her friends and relatives. Yes, Phryne has a lot of friends and relatives and they seem to know a lot of dead people. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her get paid for her investigation though so it must be good that she’s loaded.

P9Phryne is a really cool character and I don’t use that word lightly. She’s unapologetically feminist and seeing as how feminism is often beleaguered by forces that fail to actually understand it, Phryne’s character is, to me at least, very important. She embodies feminism, essentially making it clear to all her peers (and the audience) that a woman has the right to make her own choices. And Phryne certainly exercises her rights, making the choices that please her and living her dream. I don’t necessarily agree with everything she does but she’s never boring, that’s for sure. Of course it’s not lost on me that the primary reason Phryne can live the way she wants to is because of her privileged position in society, but I don’t think any less of her for this. She could choose to do a lot worse with all that money and influence than sleuthing and having fun while she’s at it.

P11While Phryne on her own is great, Phryne with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson is a match made in heaven. I adore Jack. His quiet charm is a perfect complement to Phryne’s flamboyance and verve. I rarely care for on-screen romance when there’s a mystery waiting to be solved but these two have such delicious chemistry that I couldn’t help rooting for them to get together. But that’s not the point of the show, or at least not the main objective, so Phryne and Jack continue to dance around their mutual attraction for almost the entire three seasons, demonstrating to the audience the exact definition of ‘UST’.

P6I think what makes this pairing so effective (apart from the actors being so damn good at what they do) is that Jack understands Phryne. It may not seem obvious straightaway but Jack is a man who is way ahead of his time. He isn’t distressed by Phryne’s independence or intelligence. He doesn’t want to lock her in a cage or butt into her business. He knows she isn’t a damsel in distress so what we get between them is a partnership of equals. They meet in the middle, exchanging witty remarks and smouldering gazes, and work as a team to solve those murder mysteries.

P7Jack isn’t the only one drawn to Phryne though; her generosity and charisma make her difficult to resist and people from all walks of life seem to gravitate towards her. She collects quite a diverse assortment of people very quickly, forming a “family” that also helps out with the investigations. Her home also doubles up as headquarters for her flourishing business and it’s altogether a very warm and exciting place to be. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and it was nice to see their care and concern for each other and their loyalty to Phryne.

P8I particularly like Dot, the “companion” whose job scope is quite ambiguous, ranging from fixing Phryne’s bath to going undercover. Of all the characters in the story, I think it is Dot who goes through the most obvious character development, possibly because when we meet her at the start, she is still learning about the world and her place in it. Traversing the murky reality of murder requires her to confront her own beliefs and take risks she would have never thought she could, but through it all Dot retains her innocence and morality. She becomes a very strong woman, though quite a different one from Phryne, but that’s perfect because she learns to make her own choices.

P12I was quite entertained by the way Phryne and her team set about solving the murders. It was early days yet for forensic science so the detectives often had to resort to following breadcrumb trails, sorting through witnesses’ lies and piecing the truth together painstakingly. After the first couple of episodes, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson gives up his feeble attempts to ward Phryne off from investigations and before the end of the first season, they’re sharing notes. There are a lot of questionable methods involved, with Phryne frequently breaking into the crime scene or making away with evidence, and it’s quite amusing how clues conveniently find their way into her hands. Fortunately, the inappropriate techniques don’t undermine the results of the investigation because our murderers are always more than happy to admit guilt once the finger is pointed their way.

The story follows a largely episodic structure, with one case per episode. In addition to the murder mysteries, characters may undergo conflicts or face some dilemma in their social lives but again everything is neatly tied up before the credits roll at the end. Violence and gore are almost negligible, there isn’t any on-screen sex, and nudity is a rare sighting. This design made the story very light and easy to watch and prevented too much tension from building up. It has become one of my preferred ways to wind down after a long day of work.

I would readily recommend Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries to other avid mystery fans out there, particularly those who prefer the old-school approach to investigation, where the story is light on accuracy and heavy on mystery. Even if you aren’t a mystery buff, you may become one after watching this show. It’s a comfortable, cosy journey and all one has to do is to snuggle up on the sofa and give it a go.

You can find more of my reviews at: ennadune.wordpress.com

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