Not too long ago it looked like Sweden was taking over the crime genre with the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, as well as one of my personal favorites, Wallander, (though I confess to preferring the Kenneth Branagh/Tom Hiddleson, PBS version of the TV series).
Now it looks like Australia is the place to be for an engrossing mystery. If the Swedish series mentioned above are dark (sometimes really dark), my two favorite new series set in Australia are as light and refreshing as a eucalyptus grove. (Sorry.) These are traditional mysteries, not exactly cozies, but with definite cozy mystery elements, which is probably one reason I’ve become such a fan.
Recently, through my Pinterest addiction, I discovered the delightful “Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries” starring the captivating Essie Davis. If you are a fan of the novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, a fan of Colin Firth, or like me, a fan of both, you might recognize Ms. Davis as the long-suffering, usually pregnant wife of the painter Vermeer from the film. Or maybe you won’t because in The Miss Fisher Mysteries, she’s swapped the long red locks for a dark flapper bob and looks completely different. Not surprising, since the series takes place in 1920s Australia and Miss Fisher is a fashion maven as well as a smart, adventurous, cocktail-swilling, head-turning female detective. Oh, and she has an absolutely fabulously stunning wardrobe that makes me wish it were acceptable to wear 1920s fashions on a daily basis. I’m attending a Great Gatsby gala later this year and you can bet I’m channeling Miss Phryne Fisher (pronounced “Fry-Nee”).
Since I’m in the middle of creating a mystery series featuring a strong female lead, I am always interested to see other female mystery protagonists at work. Phyrne Fisher is the creation of Austalian author Kerry Greenwood, a writer I wish I’d discovered years ago. I’m nearly finished reading my first Miss Fisher mystery. Based on what was available at my local library, I began with “Murder in the Dark,” set at a days-long Christmas and New Year’s holiday celebration that involves kidnapping, jazz, poetry recitation, sexual adventurousness (so, not a cozy) and lots of creative era cocktails (the author even includes a few of Phyrne’s favorite cocktail recipes, making this delightful mystery series book club-worthy, most definitely.)
If you haven’t discovered Kerry Greenwood or The Miss Fisher Mysteries, run, don’t walk, to your nearest library or bookstore. You can order The Miss Fisher Mysteries DVDs online as well and check your local PBS stations. They are currently filming the latest installment of the series: DVD sets 1 and 2 are available in the U.S. And don’t forget the novels! Kerry Greenwood has a humorous and engaging writing style and Phyrne Fisher is a wonderfully unique mystery heroine. If you love the 1920s, you won’t want to miss it. And while you can’t judge a book by its cover, The Miss Fisher mystery books sport stunning covers (see photo at the top of the post).
For a contemporary “traditional” mystery, Mr. and Mrs. Murder is one of the most charming shows I’ve come across in some time. Which is saying something, since my daughter recently crowned me “Queen of the PBS Mystery Show.” The basics: two stylish, smart and hilarious “crime scene cleaners,” a married couple, take a special interest in murder cases and end up solving them. When I first heard “crime scene cleaners” I thought–ugh. I don’t want to see that! If you’re squeamish like me, rest assured. In true “traditional mystery fashion,” you see very little gore.
The two actors are not only funny, they are snappy dressers, especially the wife, Nicola. Charlie is her second husband–her first is the lead detective on pretty much every case the couple are working on, which creates humorous and sometimes poignant scenes. Nicola often uses the nickname “Chaka Khan” to refer to Charlie, which I found hysterical, but then again, I’m a child of the ’80s. It kind of reminds me of Lauren Bacall using the nickname “Steve” for the Humphrey Bogart character in the 1946 film based on the Raymond Chandler tale, “The Big Sleep.”
The Mr. and Mrs. Murder mysteries themselves tend to be creative but also familiar to mystery fans — on a model photo shoot, in an art gallery, on a boat, at a ranch. Without a doubt, the best part of the show is the interplay between Nicola, Charlie and their adult niece, who helps them clean, helps them detect, but is usually clueless about what they are up to.
As with The Miss Fisher Mysteries, I can’t get enough of Nicola’s fashions (and she’s got great hair, too). Apparently, I love mystery heroines with a fashion sense–even the hard-boiled V.I. Warshawski from Sara Paretsky’s beloved private detective series, one of my all-time favorites, has a penchant for Italian shoes and real silk blouses. I’m also in love with the couple’s home which is comfortable, huge and crammed with books. Any house that is crammed with books is fine with me. The couple’s intellectual bent offers an interesting twist, especially given their earthy profession, and it’s one that I think makes the show so entertaining.
I’m currently watching Mr. and Mrs. Murder on PBS, Thursday nights, on my local Chicago station. Check your city’s PBS schedule for air times. I’m hoping this show will continue with another series; this is the first. But I’ve heard that it might not.
Here are some links for you to explore regarding these two amazing Australian mystery imports:
What about you? Any other fans of these two series out there? What do you like most about them?