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Murder on the Ballarat Train: 09/14/16

Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood

Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood is the third of the Phryne Fisher mysteries and the inspiration for the second of the television series. It's also the point where I've been convinced that I much prefer book Phryne to television Phryne.

Though the books are short, each one coming at around 175 pages, they are more detail oriented than the episodes. For instance, this book opens with Phyrne woken to the bitter smell of chloroform which has penetrated the entire first class car of the Ballarat Train. A woman is found with a rag of it to her face and burns from the chemical.

In the TV episode, the woman recovers within minutes and is carefully whisked away by Phyrne before Jack Robinson can interrogate her. While, yes, she does end up going home with Phryne it's a much more drawn out series of events. She spends about half of the book recovering from being chloroformed.

And that brings up the next big difference between book and TV. While both are set in and around Melbourne and the series is filmed in Melbourne, I suspect the TV producers have only limited access to places.

So rather than going to the place described, they go somewhere that can pass for it. Which means they can take short cuts and places are compressed for plot convenience. Meaning, that when the train to Ballarat is attacked and the woman's mother is murdered, somehow the train is within Jack Robinson's jurisdiction. It's also an easy trip for Mr. Butler to bring Phryne her car. Ballan, where the train stops for the night, is about 40 miles from Melbourne, not too far by modern standards but in the 1920s when highways were first being paved, 40 miles was a goodly distance in deed.

Then there's Phryne herself. Although she's still portrayed as a sexually liberated woman, she is more prim on TV than she is in the books. In The Train to Ballarat there is a young man on the rowing team. In the book there are two chapters dedicated to Phryne "interrogating" him from her bed. In the TV episode she says she couldn't possibly sleep with him while she's on a case!

Five stars

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