Saturday, February 12, 2011
Phryne Fisher meets Precious Ramotswe
I inhabit a world where I might be killed by a snake released in my bedroom, stabbed while dancing, eaten by a crocodile, shot in a drive-by, or pulled from a train and hung from a water tower. Yes, I do love mysteries, but it would be easy to become paranoid. Lately I have immersed myself in two vastly different mystery series.
Not too long ago, my family and I attended Woodford Folk Festival (I wrote about it here). We had torrential, terrible rains, and camping was an exercise in endurance. But our nights were made more tolerable by curling up, each on his or her camp bed, with a book light and a good book. At one point our tent collapsed, breaking poles and wrecking the camp. All we were really worried about was the borrowed camping gear and the bag of Christmas present books, not necessarily in that order.
When gum-boot deep in mud, my distraction of choice was the Phryne Fisher series by Australian Kerry Greenwood. Surrounded by smelly muck, I escaped to the glamorous 1920's where Phryne (pronounced Fry-knee) has more money than she knows how to spend, luxuriates in expensive cosmetics, wears bespoke clothes, and solves mysteries while shocking society. She is a ballsy, unconventional woman with an amazing intellect who began her life distressingly poor, and I want to be her (after she got rich). The book covers are beautiful, each showing Phryne in one of the amazing outfits from the book. I even saved one illustration as my phone's wallpaper (I am truly a book tragic).
After purchasing all the books I can find from the series (there are 17, I think, and I have seven so far) I went to the library in search of another lady detective. And Mma Ramotswe came to mind. Alexander McCall Smith's creation is 'Botswana's only--and finest--female private detective.' She is, in contrast to Phryne, a woman of tradition and national pride with a strong moral compass. Mma Ramotswe's life has a quiet rhythm, and much of her detecting is done chatting politely to people over a cup of bush tea. There's a film version, too.
One of my friends tried to read Smith's series and found it boring. I love the gentle pace and evocative language. McCall writes just as I imagine Mma would speak, and I feel like I've already met Botswana's lady detective.
The two lady sleuths couldn't be more different. Phryne screams through Melbourne in a demonic Hispano-Suiza while Mma tootles across Botswana in her tiny white van, lovingly maintained by her fiance Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. One character is free with her favours, slim with hip bones jutting from milky white skin. The other is 'traditionally built' and honoured when someone calls her fat.
Phryne makes me want to take better care of myself while Mma makes me want to take better care of everyone else. Phryne makes me want more stuff and Mma teaches me that I don't need any more stuff.
They are both avaliable on Kindle (Phryne is here and Mma Ramotswe is here.) if you are trying to save bookshelf space.
However, if, like me, you are reading the traditional, paper versions, you'll need bookmarks. For Phryne I chose a Valentino exhibit bookmark with a vintage dress that Julia Roberts wore. For Mma Ramotwse I chose Emus by Aboriginal artist Yirra-Kurl.
If you are looking to escape from your everyday life (and is that not why we read?), then I can recommend either Phryne or Mma Ramotswe. They are vastly different from one another, but both wonderful detectives.
However, after reading of these ladies' escapes you might start looking over your shoulder.