From Miss Marple and Nancy Drew to Jessica Fletcher and Agatha Raisin, female sleuths have been solving crimes in the most entertaining ways. Two recent comedy-drama detective series to feature women detectives are Frankie Drake Mysteries and Queens of Mystery.
Queens of Mystery, an Acorn TV detective series, features newly promoted Detective Sergeant Mattie Stone, a young, unmarried woman who is assigned to the police station in her quaint hometown of Wildemarsh, England. Her three aunts are there, more than willing to take part in any case to which Mattie is assigned. Mattie lost her mother as a young child, and her aunts raised her. The disappearance of the mother is an ongoing mystery in itself.
All three aunts are crime writers. They are interested in participating in Mattie’s cases for this reason, also because they cannot help but treat Mattie as anything but adolescent and needy. In some ways, they smother her. At one point, an aunt actually sneaks into the police station and steals the file which describes what happened to Mattie’s mother, presumably to keep the truth from Mattie. Too much coddling could squelch Mattie’s character. Writers beware!
In spite of the fact that I prefer my female sleuths as independent women, Queens of Mystery is an appealing series. The cases involve wily characters and good detail, and the episodes are cleverly narrated by a mystery voice. There even is a romantic interest for Mattie.
The acting is superb. Olivia Vinall as Mattie has received fine reviews for her work on the London stage. The aunts are played by Julie Graham, Siobhan Redmond, and Sarah Woodward—accomplished actresses. Season One includes three two-part episodes.
Frankie Drake Mysteries, created by the folks at the CBC who bring us Murdoch Mysteries, focuses on the escapades of four women friends in Toronto in 1921. The time period is a very important backdrop to the women—their intentions, desires, and actions. By 1922, earlier than in the U.S., all the provinces of Canada would grant the vote to white and black women.
In this series, made up of three seasons, thirty-one episodes, the sleuths are examples of what was called “the new woman.” Frankie owns a detective agency, she partners with her best friend, fellow private eye, Trudy, a Jamaican-Canadian. Frankie’s background is filled with accomplishments. She was meritorious in World War I. She was an archeologist with Howard Carter in Cairo. She flies airplanes and rides around on a spiffy motorcycle. Trudy is black, we note that she started out as a maid in a boardinghouse where her mother is cook. Trudy is my favorite character, a sharp-minded sleuth who lives at home with her mom and siblings out of a sense of responsibility. She also is a terrific jazz singer. Mary is a morality officer for the Toronto police. Women were not allowed to be police officers then, so she wears a uniform and helps solve crimes but officially cannot do anything but check the morality of the city’s female population. Finally, there is Flo, a bit older, a plucky war widow who works as morgue attendant and has studied medicine for ten years in night school.
It’s quite a troupe of characters, especially when Frankie’s and Trudy’s gregarious mothers join the action. There are such adventures. We meet such interesting real-life characters: MackSennett, Ernest Hemingway, Marcus Garvey, and others. The early 20th Century advancements, the issues of prohibition and speakeasies. The most extraordinary flapper fashions. We see a most welcome mixing of the Black/Asian/Caucasian races. Available on various formats, including streaming on PBS Passport, Frankie Drake Mysteries is sharp, great fun. A fourth season has been announced.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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