Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Murder Under The Mistletoe

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Murder Under The Mistletoe

Scott Adlerberg reviews a holiday-themed “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” made for TV story from one of the most popular traditional mystery series today.  

Among mystery writers, especially those who have written in the classical and cozy veins, there is no more venerable tradition than the Christmas season mystery.

Numerous authors have tried their hand at writing a story or novel that gives the reader a murder, or some sort of crime, that takes place over the holidays and dampens the spirit of good cheer.

Favorites of mine include the Sherlock Holmes story “The Blue Carbuncle”, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, and Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon. The recent Icelandic novel, Voices, by Arnaldur Indridason, is a strong example of a dark and contemporary Christmas crime procedural.  This list could go on and on.

Most Christmas mystery tales, not surprisingly, feature cold weather and snow, but what about places where the weather is hot in December?  Are countries in the Southern hemisphere forever precluded from having Christmas with a wintry feel like people get in the northern hemisphere?

The tradition of Christmas in July is a response to the desire for people in countries such as Australia to have Christmas during their winter season, and so it’s only natural that this holiday period, too, would get a story with the mystery lover’s appropriate nastiness.

Miss Fisher, her aunt Prudence, her companion Dot, and her friend drive from Melbourne to a chalet in the Australian Alps for a skiing excursion…

In this instance, it’s the 1920’s and a case for the Australian private detective Phryne Fisher.  It’s her case called “Murder Under the Mistletoe”, one of the sleuth’s many adventures from her television series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. The holiday episode is available now on DVD from Acorn TV.

Miss Fisher, her aunt Prudence, her companion Dot, and her friend Dr. Elizabeth Macmillan drive from Melbourne to a chalet in the Australian Alps for a skiing excursion and to celebrate Christmas in July.  The chalet sits on a decades-old, now sealed, gold mine of which Prudence’s late husband held the majority stake.

At her age, Prudence won’t be doing any skiing, but she will be taking part in the Christmas festivities and finalizing the sale of her inherited portion of the mine.

In good spirits, looking forward to an enjoyable getaway, the four arrive at the large house where they will be staying, only to find that one of their fellow guests just died while putting up the Christmas tree.

The initial supposition for the cause of death is heart attack, but it’s not long before Miss Fisher, examining the dead body, finds odd burn holes in the soles of the victim’s slippers.

…the four arrive at the large house where they will be staying, only to find that one of their fellow guests just died while putting up the Christmas tree.

Dr. Macmillian, or Mac as Miss Fisher calls her, finds a scorched mark on the man’s finger.  Unless the victim was struck by lightning indoors, Miss Fisher says, he must have been electrocuted.

It’s here the slightly tongue in cheek aspect of the Miss Fisher series comes into play, with Mac asking her friend the basic question that occurs to every mystery fan whose favorite detective characters encounter crime wherever in the world they happen to go.

Mac says, “This is a holiday.  Must you find murder everywhere?”

To which Miss Fisher replies, almost wearily and as if there’s no need to even comment, “Mac, you know very well.  Murder finds me.”

And found her, yet again, it has.  As a snowstorm whips up outside, confining the guests and servants to the chalet, it becomes clear that someone among the group is a murderer intent on targeting everyone there, Miss Fisher, Prudence, Mac, and Dot included.

Miss Fisher realizes that the killer knew that twelve people, guests and staff and two police officers, would be staying at the chalet, and as more people die, she comprehends that the killings have a sinister connection to a well-known Christmas song.

For lovers of traditional mystery, the prime ingredients are [all] here.

For lovers of traditional mystery, the prime ingredients are here. The chalet is isolated, communication to the outside world cut. Aside from Miss Fisher’s intimate circle, everyone inside is initially a suspect.

As one would expect, not everyone on view is precisely what they seem, and the solution to the mystery lies in the past.  At the end, with the killer and all the surviving people on hand, Miss Fisher explains everything, and then she and those close to her, back in their cozy digs in Melbourne, do manage to have a festive, wintertime, July Christmas.

As always with the Miss Fisher television series, the production values in “Murder Under the Mistletoe” are topnotch.  Essie Davis blends intelligence and glamor as Miss Fisher, and her supporting cast – Ashleigh Cummings as Dot, Miriam Margolyes as Aunt Prudence, Tammy MacIntosh as Mac – are spot-on in their roles.

…if you like this particular sub-genre…you’ll find this Miss Fisher episode a pleasant diversion.

The script by Elizabeth Coleman packs a good bit of plot into 53 minutes but does it in a way that’s lucid and light, and series veteran Tony Tilse directs smoothly.

You can’t have too many Christmas murder mysteries really, and if you like this particular sub-genre and haven’t seen “Murder Under the Mistletoe”, you’ll find this Miss Fisher episode a pleasant diversion.

It also might serve as an effective Miss Fisher fix for those eagerly awaiting the character’s next adventure, which will be in nothing less than a full-length film.  That’s Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, due to be released in early 2020.  Essie Davis will star, and other members of the TV series will be back.

Should be, if the film lives up to the standards of the series, fun.

*****

To read Scott Adlerberg’s collection of essays on Mystery Tribune, see here.

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