I’ve written a number of times here about my love for Miss Phryne Fisher – 1920s icon, lady detective and adventuress. I wasn’t aware of the delightful character who’s (now) featured in over twenty Kerry Greenwood books before discovering her almost a decade ago via the ABCTV show, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
It meant I was excited by the 2019 small screen arrival of Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, featuring Phryne’s niece Peregrine.
Set in the 1960s, the show picks up a couple of decades after we last see Phryne but her namesake continues to defy societal expectations in outlandish style as she pursues investigations that tend to stump (or be ignored by) the local police.Just Murdered
by Katherine Kovacic
Published by Allen & Unwin
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction
Peregrine Fisher is unexpectedly summoned to a meeting of the Adventuresses' Club of the Antipodes, where she learns some incredible news.
When Adventuress Florence Astor is accused of murder, Peregrine jumps at the chance to help on the case. Detective James Steed, initially dismissive, quickly finds Peregrine's flair for investigating and headstrong nature leave him little choice.
A second shocking death occurs and Detective Steed's boss, Inspector Sparrow, demands the case be brought to a close with suspicious speed.
With Sparrow issuing threats, time is running out for Peregrine. It seems she's set herself an impossible task, but then, as Detective Steed says, 'never underestimate a woman named Fisher'.
I enjoyed the first series when it aired a couple of years ago and was disappointed when I wasn’t going to have access to the service broadcasting the latest series.
However I was even more excited to discover to see there were going to be books!!! And, by none other than the knower-of-all-things art and history, AND creator of her own lady detective (art dealer Alex Clayton), Katherine Kovacic.
It sounded like (and indeed is) a marriage made in heaven. Kovacic’s smart and sassy prose brings the characters to life on the page, and she has a meticulous (but at the same time casually-cool) attention to detail.
At one end of the hall, a pair of staircases swept down from opposite sides of the room, the perfect setting for Florence Astor’s show. The landing where they converged was a few steps above the parquetry of the main floor, and today it had been extended out to create a catwalk where, one by one, the house models paraded. Just in front of the landing and suspended from the ceiling above, a ruched amethyst curtain hung in a perfect circle. It formed a dramatic backdrop for the cream, white and ivory tones of the gowns and, just as importantly, concealed behind its folds the breathtaking piece de resistance of Florence’s show. p 21
I loved both shows and though Geraldine Hakewill’s Peregrine doesn’t quite have the droll eccentric gravitas of Essie Davis’s Phryne both are slick and stylish productions.
Of course sometimes I felt the plots of both seem overly contrived and characters larger-than-life, but that’s really a prerequisite of the cozy crime genre isn’t it? Everything needs to be slightly exaggerated. A tad outlandish but mostly feasible.
I was surprised however to find Just Murdered featured the first episode in the first series (written and created by Australian TV legend Deb Cox). I realise of course the show and books can’t run in different directions in parallel (cos then they wouldn’t be in parallel… *shakes head in confusion*) and pondered how much of a challenge that was for Kovacic. Getting her hands on this great creation though given directions on how to use it/her. Like bumpers when ten-pin bowling. Or something.
Although of course, it does mean Kovacic has been able to focus on complementing the detail missing from the small screen and interpreting the original material. She gets to describe the visual audacity of 1960s architecture, decor and fashion to readers; develop a narrative resplendent with witty observations and wry insinuations; and complement the proffered dialogue with clever context. All of which she does with aplomb.
Just Murdered by Katherine Kovacic was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin on 3 August 2021.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.