main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Literature: Phryne Fisher
A series of mystery novels by Kerry Greenwood.

In early 1928, bored, wealthy aristocrat Phryne Fisher (pronounced 'fry-nee') solves a minor mystery at a dinner when she finds a stolen necklace. One of her fellow guests is impressed by her skill at deduction and asks her to solve a case for him in Australia. Phryne returns to her native land, solves the case and becomes a private detective. Taking Melbourne and the rest of Victoria by storm with her class, skills, flair and talent for continually doing scandalous things, she quickly builds up a group of friends and allies- everyone from a pair of cab drivers to one of the few female doctors in the country- while solving her strange and myriad cases.

The Phryne Fisher mysteries:
  • Cocaine Blues
  • Flying Too High
  • Murder on the Ballarat Train
  • Death at Victoria Dock
  • The Green Mill Murder
  • Blood and Circuses
  • Ruddy Gore
  • Urn Burial
  • Raisins and Almonds
  • Death Before Wicket
  • Away With The Fairies
  • Murder in Montparnasse
  • The Castlemaine Murders
  • Queen of the Flowers
  • Death By Water
  • Murder in the Dark
  • A Question of Death (short story collection)
  • Murder on a Midsummer Night
  • Dead Man's Chest
  • Unnatural Habits
  • Murder and Mendelssohn

The series has recently been adapted into a TV series on ABC, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. Several changes have been made from the canon, including removing Ruth entirely, giving Phryne a new sister called Janey and an Aunt called Prudence. Fan reactions have been... mixed at best... although the author loves it.

The books contain instances of these tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Phryne and Eliza's mother never really did much to help them, and their father is an alcoholic bastard who continually tried to force his daughters into arranged marriages they didn't want.
  • Action Girl: Phryne.
  • Aerith and Bob: The Fisher siblings are Phryne, Eliza and Thos (who was mentioned once and has never appeared).
  • The Alcoholic: Phryne and Eliza's father. He was completely blitzed when he named Phryne, having intended to name her 'Psyche'.
  • The Alleged Car: Bert and Cec's original cab in Cocaine Blues. In the second novel, Phryne buys them a new cab as thanks for their services, and because the first cab was a death trap.
  • Animal Assassin: In Murder in the Dark, Phryne is sent a live coral snake disguised as a Christmas present.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Lampshaded when Lin Chung plays 'stage Chinaman', usually to tease Phryne. She isn't amused.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • William McNaughton in Flying Too High, who abuses his wife and molested his daughter. His death turns out to be a complete accident caused by his own assholery.
    • Bernard Stevens in The Green Mill Murder blackmails gay men in a society which criminalizes homosexuality. Phryne figures out who the killer is but doesn't bother telling anyone by the end of the book.
    • Mrs McNaster in Dead Man's Chest, an absolute bitch who is obsessed with spying on everyone in town and abuses her family and companion relentlessly. Eventually one of the maids decides that everyone would be better off if she's dead and suffocates her with a pillow, and nobody really minds.
  • Bad Habits: Lin Chung dresses as an Anglican clergyman in The Castlemaine Murders to allow him to pass without comment in white society. Phryne finds the sight of him in clerical garb quite arousing.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Phryne and Jack Robinson in the television series.
  • Berserk Button: Phryne does not take it well when people mess with anyone in her family- especially Jane, Ruth or Dot, who aren't good at protecting themselves.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: In Dead Man's Chest, Phryne meets a maid called Bridget, who she describes as being perfectly nice and helpful. In the end of the book, it's revealed that Bridget murdered the horrible mother of her employer, probably because she felt sorry for the old woman's over-exhausted companion (her reasons weren't actually stated).
  • Blondes are Evil: Not 'evil' as such, but Jane has been noted by at least one fellow emotionless bastard to be quite terrifying because she has basically zero empathy for anyone who isn't Ruth, Ember and possibly Phryne, though she has never acted upon said lack of empathy in the manner of psychopaths. She'd make a perfect assassin if someone gave her a weapon, but so far she hasn't so much as picked up a knife.
  • Blue Blood: The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher and her sister, the Honourable Miss Eliza Fisher.
    • Lady Alice Harborough, too.
  • Bodybag Trick: Used by the Exit organisation in Blood and Circuses to smuggle a prisoner out of prison in a coffin.
  • The Butcher: Backyard abortionist 'Butcher George' in Cocaine Blues.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Despite actually working as a private investigator, Phryne gets most of her cases by stumbling into them.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Albert Forrester in Death by Water, a photographer who specializes in nudes and is actually quite good at it. Other characters specify that he's given to ogling but always takes no for an answer.
  • Clueless Mystery: Occurs often. For example, in Murder In The Dark, the abductor is revealed to be Sylvanus, but we're never told some of the things that leads Phryne to figure it out- like that he can't swim, for instance.
  • Continuity Drift: Phryne was originally said to have been born in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood. Later books changed this to Richmond, a nearby suburb. (Those familiar with Melbourne's geography may note that both these answers could be true if Phryne was born at the intersection of Victoria Parade and Hoddle Street.)
  • Conviction by Counterfactual Clue: One of the things that leads Phryne to believe that the abductor in Murder In The Dark was Sylvanus, which it was turned out to be his being in possession of two lunch boxes. Because it's impossible that he could have just been carrying one to someone else.
  • Cool Car: Phryne's Hispano-Suiza.
  • Costume Porn: Phryne's art deco high fashion wardrobe, including a genuine Erte ball gown. However, if she disguises herself as a poor person, she is careful to have her garments aged and dirtied.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: lampshaded in Murder in Montparnasse- it was the entire motive of the killer.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: The anarchist murdered at the start of Death at Victoria Dock dies in Phryne's arms.
  • Different as Night and Day: Jane and Ruth. Jane is a slim blonde who likes reading and learning, is incredibly intelligent, intends to be a doctor, has little to no empathy for most people and will read anything, but she prefers scientific texts most of all. Ruth is a plump brunette who likes cooking, is smart but not as academically brilliant, intends to be a cook, is very compassionate and likes romances. They get along brilliantly, though.
    • Phryne and Eliza. Physically, Phryne takes after their slim, dark-haired mother while Eliza takes after their big, fair father. Phryne is an urban sophisticate Femme Fatale, while Eliza is a charity worker who loves doing good. After a bad start in The Castlemaine Murders, they end up resolving their differences and getting along famously.
  • Disappeared Dad: Ruth, though he comes back.
  • Dissonant Serenity: In one very memorable example, Jane ends up being used as the bait for a gang of human traffickers in Unnatural Habits. She isn't even slightly scared. Keep in mind that this is a boat full of armed men and she's a tiny, unarmed kid with not much backup.
  • Driven to Suicide: Isabella Templar from Murder In The Dark admits to Phryne that she was contemplating committing suicide rather than going bankrupt. She doesn't.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Phryne. Being taught by a champion race car driver and spending about a year driving an ambulance in the middle of World War One tends to do that.
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Phryne pretty much sleeps with whoever the hell she likes, and it's justified- see Refuge in Audacity below.
  • Expy: Murder and Mendelssohn introduces an old friend of Phryne and his unrequited love interest, who are so obviously BBC Sherlock Holmes and John Watson that the author even wrote a bit at the end explaining why.
  • Evil Matriarch: More like obstructive and annoying matriarch, but Lin Chung's grandmother definitely counts.
    • Basically, all Chinese matriarchs are like this. Hell, all Chinese elderly women are like this.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: Phryne and Bert do this to avoid detection in Little Lonsdale Street in Cocaine Blues.
    • Also happens between Phryne and Inspector Robinson in the TV series adaptation of Murder in Montparnasse.
  • Finger in the Mail: In Away With the Fairies, the pirates mail Lin's ear to Phryne.
  • Food Porn: Often.
  • Friend on the Force: Detective Inspector "Call me Jack, everyone does" Robinson.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: In Queen of the Flowers, Ruth knocks out an intruder in the Fisher household with a long handled frying pan.
    • Dot takes one up in Dead Man's Chest.
  • Gaslighting: Ruddy Gore
  • Genius Ditz: Jane, one of Phryne's adopted daughters.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Most of the stories are set in 1928 (the books after Murder In The Dark are set in 1929). Phryne reads both Agatha Christie (she is reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd during Murder in the Dark) and Dorothy L. Sayers.
  • The Ghost: Phryne and Eliza's much-mentioned father, though given that he's a bastard, it might be best that he hasn't appeared.
  • Girl Friday: Dot Williams, Phryne's confidential maid and companion.
  • Green Eyes: Phryne has them, which is quite notable because she has black hair.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Bert and Cec.
  • Human Notepad: In Away With the Fairies, the Ruthless Modern Pirates carve their ransom demands into Li Pen's chest and send him back to Lin's family as a warning.
  • I Call Her "Vera": In Murder in the Dark, the assassin known as the Joker has named all of his knives. The one he attempts to use on Phryne is named 'Eleanora', after his mother.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: John Wilson from Murder and Mendelssohn is gay, but is attracted to Phryne and has no idea why she's the exception.
  • Instant Sedation: Actually averted in Murder On The Ballarat Train- the sweet scent of chloroform wakes Phryne up (being a light sleeper helped) and the person who had a chloroform-soaked rag laid on her face suffered horrific burns and nearly had liver damage.
  • Instrument of Murder: The mute in a cornet is used as a blowgun in The Green Mill Murder.
  • The Jeeves: Tobias Butler, Phryne's butler.
  • Jerk Ass: Phryne's douchebag father.
  • Lack of Empathy: Jane.
  • Lady of Adventure: Phryne.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Just about every book has a new cast, and while there's a number of recurring minor characters, don't expect anyone in a book to turn up in any of the others.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Ruth finds out that her father was James Murray. They get on pretty well.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: What the killer in Murder in Montparnasse tries to do. It doesn't work.
  • Missing Mom: Ruth, though she ends up visiting her for the first (and last) time.
  • Motive Rant: All the freaking time.
  • Myopic Architecture: The safe in Death Before Wicket is huge and imposing, but it was made to be set in a wall, so it has a very thin back that can be easily removed. The owners of the safe never realised this, and didn't know that it should have been in a wall, so they left it on a desk.
  • No Bisexuals: Eliza, Phryne's sister, is a lesbian, but nobody once brings up the possibility of her being bisexual.
    • Phryne herself. She once said that 'My Sapphic friends say I'd make a perfect lesbian if I didn't have this strange yen for male genitalia.' The word 'bisexual' has never come up, or anything like it.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Averted. When Phryne lived in Paris, she bought paintings from Picasso and occasionally talked to Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. She was also part of a group of female friends including Dolly Wilde (Oscar Wilde's niece), Joe Carstairs, Natalie Barney, Barbara Lowther/La Toupie (who ran the ambulance unit Phryne was part of) and Romaine Brooks.
    • Mr Featherstonehaugh from Unnatural Habits was part of Oscar Wilde's circle.
    • Both Phryne and Rupert Sheffield worked with Compton Mackenzie during World War One.
    • The cultists in Death Before Wicket are explicitly mentioned to have been followers of Aleister Crowley.
  • The Nondescript: This is Inspector Jack Robinson's major physical trait, and it makes him a very efficient policeman. Even people he has arrested cannot remember what he looks like.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Phryne works as a private detective - mostly to stave off boredom, but also because she has a natural talent as a detective, despite being wealthy enough not to have to work at all.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Julia Chivers in Murder in Montparnasse, who isn't the Dumb Blonde she pretends to be.
  • On One Condition: In Flying Too High, the will of the Asshole Victim leaves nearly everything to his widow and daughter on the condition that neither of them marry, just to keep controlling them after his death. Subverted. At the end it turns out setting such a condition is legally invalid. His attorney even told him this, but he thought they'd be too intimidated to challenge it.
  • The Password Is Always Swordfish: In Queen of the Flowers, the password to get on board the gambling ship the Ace of Clubs is "Swordfish" (or, at least, it is on the night Phryne visits). Phryne even lampshades it, saying that she feels like an extra in a Hollywood movie.
  • Pet the Dog: Walter Copeland in Ruddy Gore is generally hard to get along with, but his will leaves most of his savings to a little boy who works at the theater in order to encourage his acting.
  • Public Exposure: Phryne worked as an artist's model in Paris after World War One. She has a painting of naked nymph for which she was the model hanging in her drawing room, to the surprise of some guests.
  • Rank Up: Hugh Collins goes from constable to sergeant over the course of the novels.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Several of the stories in A Question Of Death. The story about the Book of Hours is basically a subplot that got dropped from Death Before Wicket, anyone who read Urn Burial should be able to guess most of the plot of Overheard On A Balcony with no trouble, and so on- not to mention that one of the stories is almost exactly the same as a Dorothy L. Sayers short story, plot-wise. They're not all totally unoriginal, of course.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Phryne does a lot of things normal people shouldn't be able to, such as taking a Chinese man (who gets married) as a lover, dressing scandalously (at least for 1928) and employing and adopting people from the streets. It's justified because as a rich, powerful, connected woman with very few secrets who doesn't care about what people think of her, Phryne is unaffected by the effect these acts should have on her reputation.
    • Although it's not without repercussions- Mr Butler nearly resigns in Murder in Montparnasse when Lin Chung gets married but Phryne doesn't leave him, and there's a number of scenes where people react aversely to Phryne's habits (like when Evelyn puts her and Lin in rooms at opposite ends of the house because she doesn't like Chinese, in Urn Burial).
  • Remember the New Guy: We're constantly introduced to people Phryne knew once, mainly from Paris. To be fair, she did have a very interesting life before the books.
  • Retcon: Mrs Butler's name was Elsie in Flying Too High, but has been changed to 'Aurelia'.
    • Fraser from Dead Man's Chest is introduced at the beginning of the book as Tony, but by the end of the book, his name is suddenly Ian.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: In Ruddy Gore, a constable who is overly fond of the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique is convinced the stage carpenter did it for spurious reasons. That person turns out to be guilty of a different murder, much to Jack Robinson's dismay.
  • Running Gag: Ruth's obsession with romances, up until it gets her into trouble in Queen Of The Flowers, after that the romances mostly vanish.
    • Also, Dot's fear/mistrust of the telephone.
    • In the early books, Phryne has to keep telling people that her car is a Hispano-Suiza. "See the stork on the radiator cap?"
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: Lin is abducted and held for ransom by South China Sea pirates in Away With the Fairies.
  • Sauna of Death: Phryne and Sascha are locked in a Turkish bath in Cocaine Blues.
  • Series Continuity Error: It's a plot point in Ruddy Gore that Dorothea Curtis adored hyacinths, and was always wearing their scent. In one of the later books, Phryne wrongly remembers her favourite flower as being violets.
  • Shout-Out: A subtle one; in Murder on the Ballarat Train, a character refers to having lost money in the crash of the Megatherium Trust - a reference to on-going Arc Words in the Lord Peter Wimsey novels.
    • It's also a Call Back- Bobby in Cocaine Blues ended up starting said Trust and ended up absconding to South America after it failed. It's something of a recurring plot device in Greenwood's novels- basically, if you see 'Megatherium Trust', it's not going to end well.
    • Urn Burial is a classic Shout-Out to Agatha Christie- a large, varied ensemble of characters come together in a certain location, all of whom have secrets, and end up entangled in a mystery that becomes steadily more complex. It's even got a little old lady who's a private detective named Mary Mead.
  • Sixth Ranger: Tinker, a kid Phryne ends up taking in after Dead Man's Chest.
  • Skinny Dipping: Phryne and Simon go skinny dipping in Raisins and Almonds.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Death by Water, Phyrne's companion Dot is slipped a mickey to keep her out of the way while Phryne's cabin is searched. Phryne is ready to inflict serious physical harm on the perpetrator when she finds out.
  • Smoky Gentlemen's Club: Phryne belongs to a smoky ladies club; a female-only club that is run along the same lines as a traditional gentlemen's club.
  • Society Marches On: In The Castlemaine Murders, Eliza has a secret she finally confesses to Phryne: she's a socialist- and also, as we find out later, a lesbian. This doesn't seem like much to modern viewers, but the idea of a noble woman being a lesbian socialist would have huge repercussions for Eliza and her entire family in the day.
  • Spot of Tea: Mr Butler regards a cup of tea as the panacea for every female problem.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: Mr. and Mrs. Butler.
  • Supreme Chef: Ruth, Phryne's other adopted daughter.
  • Tagalong Kid: Tinker, a kid from Queenscliff who starts working for Phryne in Dead Man's Chest and ends up becoming a part of the household at the end of the book.
  • Take Me Out at the Ball Game: In Death Before Wicket, a student playing in a cricket match nearly dies from a snake bite, which turns out to be a shoe rigged to inject poison into the target while he is on the pitch. As it turns out, he wasn't actually the target, it was the guy he borrowed the shoes from, and the target wasn't intended to be killed, just put into a trance.
  • Take That: Murder and Mendelssohn has a subplot that's a clear combination of this and Fix Fic. An old friend of Phryne comes to Australia with a friend who's giving a lecture. He's hopelessly in love with the friend, who doesn't appreciate him and is a complete arsehole. Phryne then investigates who is trying to kill the friend, not because she likes him, but because she's worried that her friend might die saving his life. The subplot would be just fine, if the characters weren't Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. And, Phryne being Phryne, she ends up getting them both together, while bashing the Sherlock-expy for A, being a dick, B, being a misogynist, and C, acting like deduction is something he made up and has never been seen before when women have been using it for hundreds of years.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: In Away With The Fairies, John Bell turns out to be an Italian named Giovanni Campana.
  • Thriller on the Express: Murder on the Ballarat Train. Zig-zagged in that while there is indeed a murder on the train to Ballarat, most of the action takes place in Melbourne.
  • Title Drop: In Away With The Fairies, Phryne describes Ms Lavender as being totally away with the fairies- that is, insane.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Dot goes from meek, mild and harmless to being ready to whack people with skillets.
  • Translation By Volume: Phryne's father has apparently subscribed to the view that all foreigners only pretend to speak their native languages, and will understand English if it's shouted loudly enough. It hasn't worked out very well for him.
  • True Companions: The soldiers in Murder In Montparnasse. They are not happy when two of them are murdered.
  • Twincest: In Death At Victoria Dock and heavily, heavily implied between the Templar twins.
  • Unexpected Successor: Phryne's father becomes an earl after a number of intervening young men died in World War I.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Lindsay Herbert is one of Phryne's unending string of lovers (and the most permanent one, until Lin Chung comes along). He is extremely rich, well-meaning and not very bright; all of which he cheerfully admits. He proposes marriage in the short story Marrying the Bookie's Daughter, seemingly unable to realise that Phryne really isn't the sort who's just going to marry, discard her career, settle down and have children. In the end, he changes his mind after seeing a young lady who married at an early age and was terribly used by her husband.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Again, all the freaking time.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Lindsay just vanishes in between Blood and Circuses and Ruddy Gore, by which we mean that he's just gone with no explanation whatsoever, not even a mention.
    • Ruth discovers the identity of her father in Queen of the Flowers. He hasn't been mentioned since, even though they had plans to try starting an actual relationship.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: A very low-key (but no less awesome) example: the Blue Cat Club is an impeccably-run gentleman's/gay club (it's got two circles: the outer circle are men who just like to hang out with other guys in a place that doesn't require impeccable manners, and the inner circle is a group of gay men who like to hang out, be themselves, hook up and eat amazing French food) that sounds like a cross between the Windsor Hotel and a museum.
  • World War I: Phryne joined an all-women ambulance brigade in France during the last year of the war, and was decorated for courage.
    • Doctor MacMillan and John Wilson were medical personnel in the same war, and Rupert Sheffield cracked codes. All of them have some very bad memories of the war.
    • Bert and Cec were Diggers and fought at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. The events of Murder in Montparnasse are intimately linked to their service.

A Phaery Named PhreddeAustralian LiteraturePuberty Blues
PhantomsLiterature of the 1980sThe Pillars of the Earth
Atlas ShruggedRailroad IndexThe Polar Express
Perry MasonMystery LiteraturePicnic at Hanging Rock
Philo VanceDetective LiteratureRetrieval Artist
Edward GoreyThe Roaring TwentiesThe Full Matilda
Perry MasonLong-Running Book SeriesRebus

alternative title(s): Phryne Fisher
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy