It’s not really a secret that I love historical romances and historical stories; they’re pretty much always a fascinating glimpse into a different time. I also enjoy mysteries. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, an Australian TV series based on a book series by Kerry Greenwood, is so far up my alley it’s not even funny.
Set in Melbourne, Australia in the late 1920s, Phryne Fisher is returning to her home city after years abroad. She’s got an ulterior motive for coming back, though: she’s looking to solve her sister’s disappearance from years before. But in the meantime, she decides to become a private detective, and her path regularly crosses with the uptight Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, much to his chagrin and her delight.
Phryne collects an assortment of people as part of her household in a variety of ways. There’s Dorothy, her companion, a lady’s maid who loses her job and is accused of committing a murder and comes to Phryne for help. There’s Bert and Cec (short for Cecil), two cabbies who end up helping Phryne with some of her field work by going where she can’t. Mr. Butler is, as his name suggests, the butler, and he runs a very tight household and is perfectly willing to roll with Phryne’s eccentricities. Jane is an orphan and Phryne’s ward, and though Phyrne isn’t particularly maternal, she cares about Jane very much.
I don’t think words can adequately express how much I love Phryne. She’s a “modern woman,” which means she’s unmarried, has loads of sex with any number of willing men, and uses birth control. She was with an ambulance service during World War I and spent several years after in Europe. She loves to drive (and drive fast). She’s multilingual, intelligent, observant, and an excellent actress, all of which are great assets when she decides to start her detective work. Phryne suffers no fools, but she’s also kind and generous to those who need her help. She’s an utter delight to watch on-screen.Phryne also has LOADS of sexual tension with Jack, who dislikes her at first, but quickly comes around when he realizes how truly helpful she is. Once Jack and Phryne start working together with regularity, the show really takes off, because they balance each other so well and their verbal sparring is so much fun to watch.
It’s also interesting to see how Phryne and Jack are balanced by the secondary couple, Dorothy Williams (Phryne’s companion) and Hugh Collins (Jack’s right-hand man and constable).
Dorothy is a devout Catholic who isn’t nearly as liberal as Phryne, but what I love is that she doesn’t try to change Phryne and Phryne doesn’t try to change her. Dorothy does change because of her association with Phryne, but it’s her own choice to do so. Dorothy finds out she really enjoys working with Phryne to solve crimes, something she never expected, and she really blossoms in her role.
Dorothy and Hugh also have the sweetest relationship. Watching them shyly court each other is an absolute delight.
One of the other points I appreciated was how Phryne was treated as a more modern and forward-thinking woman in an era when women were still in fairly restricted roles. She has the funds and the privilege to be able to live the way that she wants, for the most part, but still faces a lot of pushback from others around her. It’s interesting to see how she defies expectations, faces the issues head-on, or slides her way around them.
The show also has wonderful visual designs. The costume and set designers deserve some awards for how well they bring the world to life and how spot-on their costumes are for the characters. Phryne’s hats alone deserve a post all to themselves. It’s such a rich world, it’s easy to get sucked into, and the jazz music all helps to perfectly set the tone.Overall the series plot is handled really well. Each episode is based around a single murder, with an overarching plot that goes through the entire season, which (as you may recall) is my preferred format for television shows. You can pick up and watch any of the episodes in just about any order without getting too lost, which makes it easy to get into when you don’t have time to binge-watch the whole thing.
The first two seasons are my favorite, both with the plots and the way they handle the characters. The third is still very enjoyable, but it stumbles a bit in a few ways (how it handles Hugh’s character in particular), and being a few episodes shorter than the other seasons doesn’t help.
Despite that, the series ends on a high note, and personally I was very satisfied (though I would obviously be so very here for it if they ever decided to do a fourth season). Some people felt the ending was a bit cliffhanger-ish; personally, I liked it and felt that we did get a resolution that had been a very, very long time in coming.
This series is amazing, and I’ve watched the whole thing twice through on Netflix already (and I’ll probably do it a third time, if not more). If you like mysteries, snappy dialogue, and wonderful characters, then you really, really should give this show a watch.
As of this post, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is still available for streaming on Netflix.