One of the most-requested books I knew least about when I moonlighted as a bookseller was the Phryne Fisher lady detective series by Karen Greenwood. I lost count of the number of women—it was always women—who bemoaned the fact that the series had, as I discovered from searching the database, the dreaded status of ‘out of print’.
Those three words would invariably lead the lady customers to rage and rail against the publishing machine. How, they would ask me, could these books possibly be out of print? Do the publishers not, they would implore me, understand how brilliant the Phryne Fisher series is?
Having not read the books and not being able to read them due to the pesky, aforementioned out-of-print status, I wasn’t exactly in a position to answer questions that I wasn’t entirely sure weren’t rhetorical.
I was also a bit puzzled and not overly impressed by the uncommon, not-intuitively-spelt named ‘Phryne’. No bookseller can possibly know every single book in the universe—in or out of print. But that doesn’t stop customers expecting them to. This mysterious name-slash-title had tricked me up and forced me to show customers I didn’t know what or who a ‘phryne’ was and could they possibly spell it? Oh, and I may have confusedly put Phryne as the author as opposed to the title once or twice.
Suffice to say, I’ve copped my fair share of customer frustration at the series’ unavailability and my inability to one-thousand-percent know everything about it (including how to magic up a set even though it was out of print), I didn’t have entirely fond feelings towards this Phryne character.
When I heard that ABC had turned the books into TV, I was intrigued. Finally, I thought, the books are now back in print and I’ll get to see what all the fuss was about. That and hooray that booksellers for years to come will be spared the out-of-print passive aggressive-ness I copped. (As a side note, I wonder if in the internet-based future, the notion of being out of print will become obsolete?
I haven’t yet read said books, but if the TV show is anything like them (and given the warm reviews its received, I’m surmising that it is) I can see why the series has fans. Phryne Fisher is a young, sassy, imperfect, fearless, attractive, fun Australian lady detective. She dares to be independent, to flirt, to break rules, to be non-religious, and to have romantic flings.
In fact, her age and sexiness put her in stark contrast to the traditionally old, sexless lady detectives who are her peers (Agatha Christie and Jessica Fletcher spring to mind). Sure, there’s modern-day Precious Ramotswe from the No. 1 Lady Detectives Agency, but she’s cast as being a matronly kind of woman. She might have an admirer, but she has but one, is modest, and certainly isn’t promiscuous.
I can see the appeal of Phryne immediately.
Then there are the TV series’ great period costumes, the fantastic storylines, and the actors who embody their roles well. Essie Davis as Phryne pwns it (to borrow a gaming term) and I love the cops more and more daily—especially Hugo Johnstone-Burt as the suitably cute, easily embarrassed young constable Hugh Collins.
I don’t know how the series came back into print—whether it was pester power, whether one of the passionate fans also turned out to be someone with the clout and sense to buy the rights and set the printing presses in action, whether it was something else altogether—but I am glad it did. I’m also glad the ABC created the series. That and that I can now both spell Phryne and know what the series is about. I might just now call myself a Phryne fan …