Review of “The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions: The Ultimate Miss Phryne Fisher Story Collection”

author’s pic

The Stuff:

This is a collection of short stories involving Miss Phryne Fisher, an Australian lady detective of the 1920s. She is independent, knowledgeable, wealthy, and liberated.

This contains seventeen Miss Phryne Fisher murder mystery short stories. IMselddomHO, the short form doesn’t let the mysteries develop as well as the novel. Not all the stories involve murder. Some border on the simply cute. I enjoyed several more than the others. Most of the mysteries hinge on Phryne stumbling on just the right clue or having miraculous insight. Regardless, most of these are a lot of fun.

While I found most of the action in “The Hours of Juana the Mad” improbable, I still found it cute watching Phryne tweak the noses of academia. Phryne and some professors are led on a wild hunt for stolen property, and Phryne’s Latin is sorely tried.

Another one in a similar vein is “The Miracle of St. Mungo.” Our hero is called to retrieve a locket held as blackmail. Can she do it? Silly question. Sometimes, though, there are more important things than mere jewelry.

All but four of the stories appeared in 2014’s A Question of Death. The earlier book contained notes on Phryne’s favorite things—shoes, for example, plus period recipes for food and cocktails. These have been removed for the present book, but it is none the poorer for that. Some editing was done, and typos were removed. The author provides a glossary for Australian slang. The book ends with the first chapter of the latest book in the series, Death in Daylesford.

The book is introduced by a short essay titled “Apologia,” in which the author addresses the reader:

Dear Reader,

Thank you for buying this book (and if you haven’t bought it yet, please do so—I have cats to feed).

Following this is a longer—but still short—section on how the author came to write mysteries and develop Phryne Fisher’s character. It may interest writers more than readers, but it is told with a light touch. I found both these essays engaging and entertaining.

The stories:

“Hotel Splendide”

Mrs. Johnson left her sick husband at the hotel to buy medicine for him. Now no one seems to be able to find him or their room. Phryne steps in to help, even if it means being late to the Nibelung.

“The Voice is Jacob’s Voice”

Two brothers die at a costume party of Phryne’s. The story is written with heavy biblical allusions.

“Marrying the Bookie’s Daughter”

Phryne recovers some lost jewelry and seriously considers marriage.

“The Vanishing of Jock Mc Hale’s Hat”

A football (soccer) coach’s lucky hat disappears. He graciously allows Phryne to look for it at the archbishop’s request. (“What can a sheila do? What use is she?”)

“Puttin’ on the Ritz”

Phryne’s gauche date wants her to recover the pearls he inherited from his mother. His lothario father has given them to his current squeeze. While our hero’s solution is unlikely, it is funny.

‘The Body in the Library”

The body appears (at first glance) to belong to a working girl. The library belongs to Robert Sanderson, MP, who’s been trying to regulate brothels, that is, legalize prostitution. But not all is as it appears.

“The Miracle of St. Mungo”

Phryne’s friend has a favor to ask. She’s committed an indiscretion. She loves her husband, but now the young man in question has a locket with a picture of the two of them. On the back is a quote from Ovid that would be hard to explain. Can Phryne get it back? Natch. But there are things more important than a locket.

“Overheard on a Balcony”

Phryne’s escort has invited the insufferable General Harbottle to a June Christmas party. Harbottle intimidates his meek wife, and then he goes on to Valhalla. So many people with so many motives…

“The Hours of Juana the Mad”

Phryne attends an academic cocktail party on the arm of Jeffrey Bisset, who won her favor after he pronounced her name correctly. He wants to show her a recent acquisition of the University of Melbourne, a book of hours, made for Juana the Mad of Spain. It’s stolen. The thief leads Phryne on a merry chase, leaving clues in Latin and reeking of academia. This was fun, if extremely improbable.

“Death Shall be Dead”

Inspector Jack Robinson asks Phryne to consult on a case. Elderly Albie Jackson has been found beaten to death. He complained someone had shot at him. He’d refused reasonable offers for his house, which was in a state. Now his home is burned, and three people have been found dead inside, sitting around a table as if having tea. Oh, and Jack has taken up poetry. He’s reading Chaucer—“The Pardoner’s Tale.”


Phryne goes to the carnival with Bobby Ferguson, a scion of a major banking family, who is convinced everyone working at the carnival is a thief. He sets out to prove his point.

“The Camberwell Wonder”

The police recover a gentleman’s starched collar with human blood on it. Stevie Slade, a mentally challenged employee of the Clarke family, tells the authorities, “I killed Mr. Clarke.” No one has seen Mr. Joshua Clarke. Stevie’s mother, who works as a cleaner for the Clarke family, swears her son couldn’t do such a thing.

“Come, Sable Night”

This murder takes place among a group of madrigal singers. There is more than meets the eye. The victim is a thoroughly unlikeable person. Everybody hates him, but who did him in? Phryne listens to the music.

“The Boxer”

Wealthy Mrs. Ragnall hires Phryne to find her eight-year-old granddaughter. Her daughter is “lost.” What Phryne uncovers is deeply disturbing and hopeful at the same time.

“A Matter of Style”

Obnoxious Mrs. Ballard accuses Mme. Latour of stealing a scarf while she was receiving services at her salon. Other patrons have had items gone missing. This might be all for Mme. Latour’s business. Phryne uncovers more than just the solution to the missing items. Another unlikely story but fun.

The Chocolate Factory”

Phryne poses for the label of top-notch chocolates. Unfortunately, some nougats delivered to her house turn the stomachs of her adopted daughters. Who could have contaminated the chocolates and why?

The Bells of St. Paul’s”

While out for high tea with her companion and maid, Dot, Phryne notices an odd pattern in the bells of St. Paul’s. She figures it is a code and follows it. This is so unlikely I couldn’t buy it.


Kerry Greenwood (b. 1954) is an Australian author and a lawyer. She has published more than fifty novels, plays, and children’s books. Among her most well-known is the Phryne Fisher historical mysteries.

Title: The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions: The Ultimate Miss Phryne Fisher Story Collection
Author: Kerry Greenwood
First published: 2007; rev. 2022

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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