This is a copy of my most recent post to Book Babe. I think it might be controversial, but I stand by my views.
Until I read The Castlemaine Murders I had no reason to think about the Australian TV series Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
and how it might be different from the books. I actually didn't know
very much about the issue because I hadn't seen very many episodes of
the TV series. A few of them appeared on American public television,
and it looked like it was a typical situation of adaptations needing to
leave out sub-plots or other details due to the constraints of episodic
television. I understand that. I try not to let it bother me unless
what the TV series leaves out feels very important.
have a friend on Goodreads whose first exposure to Phryne Fisher was the
TV series. She is now reading the books in order, and made a remark
that she preferred the TV version because of the lovely relationship
between Phryne and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson. I was taken aback
by this news because I knew that Jack Robinson was a happily married
man in the book version, and that he was much too conventional for
Phryne in any case. Yet I still didn't think about how much such a
change would matter to me.
I've been reading the Phryne Fisher books in no particular order based on whatever book happened to catch my interest. Enter The Castlemaine Murders stage right. I started reading it and saw that Phryne's lover, Lin Chung, was very prominent.
I wondered what they had done with this book on the TV series. I
looked at a list of episodes on IMDB and saw that it wasn't there. When I
understood that the TV series had engaged in a deliberate de-emphasis
of Lin Chung in order to make room for a potential relationship with
Jack Robinson, I felt a rant coming on. There really are some serious
implications in this change, and for me The Castlemaine Murders represents why it's important.
Fisher is controversial because she isn't monogamous, and is often
considered promiscuous. Yet she does have a primary relationship in
Kerry Greenwood's books. He is the man to whom she always returns
because he's special, and that special individual is Lin Chung. He is
portrayed as not only attractive, but also competent, intelligent,
resourceful,compassionate, courageous, loyal, generous and considerate.
He also has remarkably good taste. He is rooted in his culture. He
feels committed to his family and community. Unlike many Asian
characters in fiction who make their home in the West, identity isn't a
troublesome question for him. He knows who he is, and where he
belongs. He isn't lost and has no feelings of angst. Yes, he's
idealized. Yet it does mean something that for Phryne Fisher the
perfect man doesn't have the same background as she does. Kerry
Greenwood celebrates diversity through the relationship between Phryne
Fisher and Lin Chung.
In The Castlemaine Murders
Lin Chung comes into his own. He has carried out important missions
for his family before, but in this book he's shown as establishing
diplomatic links with other Chinese families and taking a philanthropic
role in giving assistance to elderly impoverished Chinese.
significance of this novel goes beyond Lin Chung's metamorphosis into a
family and community leader. It also deals with race hatred directed
at the Chinese in the Australian Gold Rush during the 19th century.
There is mention of an extraordinary individual, a white Australian
constable named Thomas Cooke who risked his life to stop an anti-Chinese
riot. There is a commemorative plaque devoted to Thomas Cooke which
can be found at the Monument Australia
website. This history needs to be remembered. Racism is a worldwide
problem, but it's possible to make a stand against it. It is the
presence of Lin Chung in the book series that allowed Kerry Greenwood to
address this theme.
My feeling is that the choice to
make Lin Chung a minor background character in the TV series reflects a
discomfort with the interracial relationship and with the potential of
this character to raise issues that are equally disquieting. Replacing
him in Phryne's life with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson makes the TV
series more like a conventional crime series. It probably broadens the
appeal of the TV series, but I consider it a disservice to a character
that I love.
The Castlemaine Murders could have made a powerful episode in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.
Fortunately, the novel still exists to show us that a Phryne with Lin
Chung is far more interesting than a Phryne without him.