A couple of months ago I got hooked on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, an Australian TV series I was recommended to watch by Netflix. As many of the recommendations tend to be lame (because I watched Top of the Lake apparently I should watch Step Brothers, although perhaps the best one was when it suggested I watch QI because I had previously seen Gone Girl), I was tempted to dismiss it, but after seeing the trailer on YouTube I bit the bullet and put the first episode on. I was quickly enthralled by the tales of this flapper detective, and binge watched the entire first series in just a week. Not long after, whilst browsing in the Oxfam shop, I discovered one of the books and decided it must be fate.
As was the case with the TV show, my love affair with the novels was fast and ferocious, and I quickly began seeking out the books wherever I could. Kerry Greenwood is a prolific writer across a number of genres, but she is most noted, with good reason, for the imaginative, well crafted and witty Miss Fisher novels.
Set in 1920s Australia and written recently (the first was released in 1989 and the latest was published in 2013), the books are a cross between Agatha Christie and Jill Patton Walsh, showcasing a flair for characterisation and an innovative narrative style incorporating strong, intricate plots and sleek, stylish dialogue. They are easily compared to traditional Golden Age fiction (and indeed, Dorothy L Sayers even gets a mention) but there is a definite modern flare to the writing, with a semi-nostalgic view of life all those years ago that is both endearing and charming.
So, as my treat, allow me to outline my pick of the five best novels in this fascinating series so that you can get as addicted to Miss Fisher and her adventures as I am.
- A Question of Death: Personally, I am a big believer that short story collections are always a good place to start, and this is one of the best. Featuring a selection of the most devilish short stories about this glamorous sleuth, the stories retain the suspense and mystery of the novels whilst their brevity allows for even better characterisation; those who believe the opposite should be the case are mistaken, as this well crafted series boasts some of the best characters in the series. The reduced time in which characters are portrayed allows Greenwood to utilise all her skills to create meaningful encounters, exacting descriptions and minute but vital details. Also the pretty illustrations and innovative cocktail recipes make this a great investment for a real die hard fan.
- Ruddy Gore: Perfectly encapsulating the very best of the lady detective, Ruddy Gore sees Miss Fisher investigating the strange demise of an actor who dies onstage during a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Ruddigore’. Introducing the protagonist’s sole long term lover, who reappears in other novels, the exotic and dashing Lin Chung, this is an exhilarating tale that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.
- Dead Man’s Chest: An exciting novel with enough twists and turns to worry the presenters of Top Gear, this later outing for Miss Fisher and friends shows them decamping to Queenscliff for a holiday, only to find their household staff have done a bunk. As things get criminal the holiday is cut short, with a fascinating mystery making for an enticing novel that keeps you guessing right till the end.
- Death By Water: Set aboard a luxury cruise liner, this is a thrilling and intriguing tale, as Miss Fisher is hired to investigate a series of jewel thefts. Seamlessly ingratiating herself among the upper classes, Phryne baits the thief whilst simultaneously delving into the fascinating lives of the passengers, who are also the suspects.
- Cocaine Blues: The first book in a series is always a good place to start, and Cocaine Blues, also known as Miss Phyne Fisher Investigates, is a great opener. We are introduced to the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, a lady detective who relocates from England at the behest of wealthy aristocrats concerned for the safety of their daughter, who always falls ill when in the presence of her horrible husband. With all the traditional tropes of a Golden Age detective story but with a modern flare, this is the ideal way to get you hooked on these fantastically plotted novels.