Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2021
Written by Katherine Kovacic based on Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries episode 1, written by Deb Cox
This novelisation of the TV series of the same name no doubt aims to broaden the following and woo audience for a project bound to be met with some resistance from traditional Phryne Fisher fans. And what a success this book is!
Contemporary crime write Katherine Kovacic brings all the required qualifications to this task and instantly engages us with the sixties era and character Peregrine Fisher, niece of the missing Phryne and heir to her not inconsiderable estate.
The television series Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries was created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger and inspired by Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the TV series based on the Phryne Fisher mystery books by Kerry Greenwood. Produced by Every Cloud Productions in association with Screen Australia, Film Victoria and Fulcrum Media Finance
No crime writer could wish for a better endorsement than that of Australia’s crime queen Kerry Greenwood, especially when referring to a spin off character and series from her much beloved twenties’ era crime fighter extraordinaire, Phryne Fisher. Ms Greenwood’s cover puff reads: ‘ A splendid read…I recommend it unreservedly.’
Peregrine proves herself to be worthy to fill Phryne’s empty chair at the Adventuresses’ Club of the Antipodes, a feminist group championing the talents and rights of women in a disturbingly sexist and racist sixties milieu. Beneath the romping of this cozy crime story, the author has laid bare the parlous status of women in the Australia of the sixties – an era commonly known as one of revolution, progress and change. She also pokes at police corruption, power, the less attractive side of the fashion industry and a host of other social issues.
None of this serious underfelt interferes with our thorough enjoyment of a fast paced, richly charactered story, as we follow Peregrine’s undercover work at Blair’s Department store in the quest for justice for both the murder victims and the adventuresses.
Like Phryne, Peregrine works with a member of the police force, the rather delightfully named Steed, who is more than a tad oppressed by his boss, Sparrow, but who nevertheless is tempted to bend the rules and his orders to see the villains apprehended.
Sixties fashion is given a red hot go in this book (words Peregrine uses to express her approach to her crime solving tasks, and to life in general). We can joyfully sink into the fashion design world of this era and the many outfits Peregrine pulls from Phryne’s wardrobe – we know Phryne would have embraced the rea with as much gusto as she did the twenties).
Peregrine’s inherited snazzy fast car also receives a fair dose of attention as does her love of fast driving, another tilt at male prejudice and notions of superiority). It’s very filmic of course, given its TV derivation.
We do like our story heroines to be gutsy and to carry out a slew of daring deeds in the pursuit of bad folk, and we have that fulsomely here. Peregrine speaks her mind in a very sixties way but is also satisfying plagued by self-doubt at times. Her uneasy past adds to, rather than detracts from, her charm. We feel that here is a heroine who has earned her stripes, who has need of smoothing out and a few breaks from the universe, but who always acknowledges her origins.
Katherine Kovacic has pulled off with aplomb what must have been a very daunting project. This is a thoroughly gripping read, action based but thoughtfully conceived so that we ponder the characters and their world as much as the mad dashing about, breathless scrapes and sigh-of-relief inducing escapes from harm.
Thank you, Allen & Unwin for the review copy and Katherine for such a great conversation about your work.