Inspiration From The Distant Past

Inspiration From The Distant Past
Found note in an old book... warms the cockles of my bookish heart...

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.


  1. I love, love, love the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency! The first is not my favorite, but each one gets better and better.
    The stories and the way people think are so real, even though it may be a different culture.

    Phryne looks intriguing. I will have to pick that series up! I love period mysteries!

  2. Kerry Greenwood, the author (forgot to mention that in the post!) wrote that she does six months' research for each book. You wouldn't know it, though, because they are so entertaining.

  3. I love the way you have contrasted these two lady detectives!

  4. Wow!! So evocative! Your posts always transport me but I don't which way to go on this one- Melbourne or Botswana?

    Did you know I've never read any adult mysteries? unless the plum series is considered a mystery cause I did read the first one of those.

    Anyway, I did read mysteries as a kid and I love mystery shows especially the brit ones so it is a mystery to me why I always pass over these type of books.

    Everytime I read one of your wonderful mystery posts, I am puzzled anew but reminded that I need to expand my horizons-- I am going to keep an eye out for these two ladies in particular as I bargain book hunt.

    Never would have guessed it was pronounced 'fry-nee'!

    Yes, of course, you saved the books first!!

  5. I've not read your first but your second is definitely gentle and softly paced! very unlike brash detectives which seem the norm. Of course you get Miss. Marple and Poirot also fairly gentle and ladylike!

  6. Funny, hubby and I just finished the weekend by watching Poirot's Murder on the Orient Express. And oddly, we had not ever seen it despite the title being so familiar. We were both on the edge of the couch. Actually, we were slumped, but you know what I mean! And, Mystic, he got really cranky at the end. He's a gentleman, but I wouldn't want to cross him...

  7. What a great article. I've never heard of these books, and now I'll keep my eyes open!



  8. Guess what I found at Goodwill this week?! The first Ramotswe book! Plus, a couple of Agatha Christie's (a poirot and somebody else) and a Sherlocke Holmes!

    I am going to dabble!

  9. I really like the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series but I haven't read any of the Phryne Fisher books - they sound like fun though! Interesting comparison of the two ladies!


Welcome to the yakkity yak box, Book Lovers! Your comments are greatly appreciated so please feel free to share your thoughts and ask questions.

Comments/questions will receive a response here and visits will be returned as time allows. We are a chatty bunch but also busy with work/school/family so apologies in advance for any delays.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...