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Arriving on Acorn, 'Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries'
April 29, 2019  | By David Hinckley
 

On television, it sometimes seems, amateur detectives outnumber actual detectives.

Moreover, most of them seem to be women, and those ranks now include Peregrine Fisher (Geraldine Hakewell, top), star of Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, an Australian series that comes to the U.S. on Monday through the streaming service Acorn.

As our story begins, Peregrine is no more a detective than she is a falcon. She is, however, a quick study, and if she scores a zero for experience, she’s got a 10 for bloodline.

She turns out to be the long-lost niece of Phyrne Fisher, star of the much-loved Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which ran for three television seasons a few years back and will soon return with a new story in a feature film.

That makes Modern Murder Mysteries a spinoff, though the connection doesn’t extend too far beyond the name.

Phyrne was swashbuckling around the nightclubs of Melbourne in the 1920s, charming the menfolk and solving murders well before Peregrine was born.

Now it’s the early 1960s. Phyrne has gone missing in the highlands of New Guinea and is presumed dead. Peregrine’s mother Frances also just died, so Peregrine has inherited a big-city mansion and a really cool silver blue Austin-Healy. Plus, apparently, some money.

This represents a significant lifestyle change for Peregrine, who previously had been living in a small-town trailer and hanging out with a good old boy named Eric (James Mason).

Now, along with the house and car, Peregrine also has inherited a group of Phyrne’s friends, the Adventuresses Club, a circle of extremely accomplished women whose mission is to show they can do anything men can do. Like someday soon fly to the moon.

Peregrine, whose resume runs more toward hairdressing and rebuilding transmissions – okay, yes, think Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny – somehow fits perfectly into this group. What organization isn’t looking for enthusiastic young blood?

There’s nothing not to like about Peregrine, really. She can be a little flighty, maybe. She also has great people skills, meaning she can surreptitiously pump people for those little tidbits of information that fill in the puzzle for detectives.

We get that from the opening moves in her first case, set inside the fashion industry. The murder victim seems to have been living inside a hornets’ nest of jealousy, intrigue and sordid affairs, none of which fazes Peregrine as she systematically absorbs tiny clues.

Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries breaks no new ground in TV’s long-form crime genre. It relies on a familiar trail of overheard conversations, fortunate long-shot connections, clever deductions and tiny slipups by the perps.

No matter. The cases, which include four separate two-hour productions in the first season, have solid plotlines with genuine mysteries and a decent sprinkling of red herrings.

The cases also prominently include Detective James Steed (Joel Jackson), a handsome young fellow who takes a liking to Peregrine both for professional and personal reasons.

Peregrine quickly becomes fond of him, too. Their mutual suspicion melts away as they work together on the fashion model case, and if you’re guessing that at some point Eric reappears and things get complicated, you could be onto something.

Nor is Peregrine’s and Steed’s personal relationship the only part of their lives with a complication. Professionally, they’re stuck under the nasty and suspicious eye of Steed’s boss, Chief Inspector Percy Sparrow (Greg Stone).

Sparrow is a blustering bully who also seems to be seriously corrupt, has no problem targeting the innocent if it clears a case faster and barges in to take credit for the good work of others.

Since professional detectives rarely welcome the help of amateurs, it makes sense that Sparrow would resent Peregrine and the other members of the Adventuresses.

For TV purposes, that enables them to be constantly creative in circumventing him and facilitating actual justice.  

Miss Fisher is a tough act to follow. A show that knows enough to set a scene with “Today I Met the Boy I’m Going To Marry” is on the right track.

 
 
 
 
 
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