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Literature / Phryne Fisher

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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
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  • 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
  • Death In Daylesford

The series has 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, although the author loves it. Another spin-off was created in the form of Ms Fisher's MODern Murder Mysteries, a series of telenovels with an entirely original script, featuring Phryne's niece Peregrine Fisher, who becomes a private detective when her aunt goes missing.


The books contain instances of these tropes:

  • '20s Bob Haircut: Phryne, being a thoroughly modern miss, naturally sports one. She attempts to persuade her companion Dot to get one as well, but Dot, who is suspicious all things modern, steadfastly refuses and keeps her long braid.
  • 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).
  • Affectionate Nickname: Phryne usually calls Jack Robinson "Jack dear" once they've worked together enough to establish a friendship.note 
  • The Alcoholic: Phryne and Eliza's father. He was completely blitzed when he named Phryne, having intended to name her 'Psyche', and goes through several bottles of various alcoholic drinks a day.
  • 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.
  • And Then What?: Invoked word for word in Queen Of The Flowers when Ruth is on her way to ask her dying mother who her father was, and hadn't actually thought any further than that.
  • Animal Assassin: In Murder In The Dark, Phryne is sent a live coral snake disguised as a Christmas present.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Variant in Raisins and Almonds, when Phryne tries to assuage the suspicions of her fling's Jewish Mother.
    Phryne: I just want to borrow him. I'll give him back when you want him. I know I can't keep him, and I won't hurt him.
    Mrs. Abrahams: You don't want to marry him?
    Phryne: No.
    Mrs. Abrahams: What's wrong with him?
  • Artistic License – Law: Zigzagged in Flying Too High, the Asshole Victim's will stipulates that his wife and daughter will only inherit his money if they don't marry—which causes some consternation, as both are in love (the wife was having an emotional affair). In real life, such clauses are unenforceable and have been for a long time. Phryne's lawyer friend points this out, and it turns out okay.
    • The Camberwell Wonder has an in-universe case- it's a popular belief at the time that a person cannot be convicted for murder if the victim's body has not been found. However, Jack Robinson clarifies that you can in fact be convicted for murder without the body, especially if you've confessed and there's evidence to collaborate it. The supposed 'victim' was very aware of this, and used his knowledge to flee the country and make it look like he was murdered.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • When speculating whether a young woman might have run away to keep from marrying her father's chosen suitor, Phryne muses that he's fifty years old... and has a moustache.
    "A moustache!" Dot shuddered.
    • Phryne tries to guess why her sister has been banished to Australia.
    "Stable boys? Horses? A scandal about racing drivers? Did you get exasperated with a lover and plug him with a .45? Duelling? Drug addiction? Necrophilia? Methodism?"
  • Asian Speekee Engrish /Elective Broken Language: Lampshaded when Lin Chung plays 'stage Chinaman', usually to tease Phryne. She isn't amused.
  • Asshole Victim: If there's a murder, there's a fifty-fifty chance the victim was so awful that everyone they knew is a suspect.
    • 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 gives him plenty of time to escape before bothering to inform Robinson (it probably helped that the killer had intended to kill someone else, but fatally missed).
    • 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.
    • General Harbottle in "Overheard on a Balcony" in A Question of Death: a blackmailing, wife-beating General Ripper who has no shortage of people willing to poison him.
  • 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.
  • Bath of Poverty: Phryne loves luxuriating in long hot baths, because in her poverty-stricken childhood, she often had to take what she refers to as 'cat-washing': standing a basin and wiping herself down with damp flannel.
  • 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).
  • Biker Babe: The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher—socialite, fashion plate, and sometimes nude model—also Drives Like Crazy; having gained her driving skills as an ambulance driver in World War I. As a shout out, her preferred marque is a Hirondel; the same make driven by The Saint. (In the TV show, she drives a Hispano-Suiza.)
  • 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.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Phryne.
  • Bride and Switch: In Murder in Montparnasse. Lin Chung has an Arranged Marriage with a girl he's never met; when she dies unexpectedly, her family sends an older cousin with the same name to Australia in her place.
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase: Various members of the Yates family have "Too right". Phryne refers to people as "dear".
  • Child Hater: Downplayed. Phryne is one of the few women she knows who will openly admit that she doesn't like children - and yet, she proves quite good at wrangling them.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Albert Forrester in Death By Water, a photographer who specializes in nudes and is actually quite good at his job. Other characters specify that he's given to ogling but always takes no for an answer.
  • Circus Episode: In Blood and Circuses, Phryne goes undercover as a trick rider in a small travelling circus to investigate strange goings-on.
  • 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.)
    • It's never made exactly clear how many siblings Phryne has- the only one who's appeared on screen is Eliza. There's been mentions of a sister who died and a younger brother, Thos, but there's also been mentions (but no details) of at least one more living sister and brother.
  • Continuity Nod: It's implied that Phryne hired Albert Forrester from Death by Water to take the family Christmas picture at the beginning of Murder in the Dark.
  • 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. And Phryne goes through men like wildfire, while Eliza is a monogamous lesbian.
  • 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.
  • Engaging Conversation: In Murder in the Dark, Mr. Butler compliments the Templars' housekeeper by saying, "If I weren't already married..." (She's both cool in a crisis and a very good pastry cook.)
  • 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's Sherlock Holmes and John Watson that the author even wrote a bit at the end explaining why.
  • Everybody Wants the Hermaphrodite: Deconstructed in Blood and Circuses. Mr. Christopher the intersex circus performer attracts a wide range of admirers, but it does not end well. In the "murdered by his Abhorrent Admirer who considered Christopher his "perfect woman" even though Christopher lived as a man when he wasn't performing and already had a a fiancee" sense of "not ending well."
  • 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.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: Per the author's note to Ruddy Gore, Lin Chung is named after one of the main characters of Water Margin/Outlaws of the Marsh (usually rendered as Lin Chong).
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: In the backstory of Away With the Fairies, the children's author Marcella Lavender had parents like this, which led directly to her "[breaking] out into fairies" once they died.
  • Finally Found the Body: Zigzagged: In Urn Burial, Phryne comes across Lina's corpse just after she's killed, but it's removed and hidden elsewhere before anyone else can see it, leading almost everyone else to conclude that Lina simply ran off. A good part of the book involves Phryne and several other inhabitants of Cave House looking for any trace of Lina, but the body is only found at the climax of the book.
  • Finger in the Mail: In Away With the Fairies, the pirates mail Lin's ear to Phryne.
  • Finger-Licking Poison: In Murder and Mendelssohn, a conductor who habitually licks his finger before turning the pages of his score is poisoned when the killer coats the top of his score with arsenic.
  • Food Porn: Often.
  • Foreshadowing: At least one copy of Ruddy Gore has a foreword paraphrased as 'The 1928 cast of Ruddigore did not have any murderers in it'. At first it seems like a normal disclaimer, but as it turns out, nobody in the cast was the murderer.
  • Friend on the Force: Detective Inspector "Call me Jack, everyone does" Robinson, and Hugh Collins.
  • 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.
  • General Ripper: General Harbottle, the Asshole Victim in "Overheard on a Balcony" in A Question of Death. He was responsible for scores, possibly hundreds, of deaths at Gallipoli, by sending men up an unclimbable hill to take an untakeable machine gun.
  • 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.
  • Girl Friday: Dot Williams, Phryne's confidential maid and companion.
  • Go Among Mad People: Turns out to be what happened to Alicia Waddington-Forsythe in Death at Victoria Dock, as her stepmother sent her to be institutionalized by a Freudian who assumed her experiences with incest — including her brother sleeping with her stepmother — were part of an Oedipus complex.
  • 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 the messenger.
  • 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, who he'd actually killed.
  • 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. Leads to some Foreshadowing, as the victim's medical student fiancé exclaims that he didn't know chloroform would do that....
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: Phryne's douchebag father.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: The villain of "The Camberwell Wonder" tries this after he faked his death and tricked his Gentle Giant employee into framing himself for murder, in order to abscond with his wife's money and his mistress.
  • Karma Houdini: Mrs. Freeman in The Green Mill Murder. She falsely claimed her elder son was dead for years, sends her younger one to kill him, and ends up getting both parts of their inheritance after the younger dies and the elder renounces it.
  • Kissing Cousins: Yourka and Maria in Death At Victoria Dock.
  • Lack of Empathy: Jane. She tries not to let it interfere with her bedside manner, but she's got some work to do.
  • Lady of Adventure: Phryne, and everyone in the Adventuresses' Club, fittingly.
  • Last-Name Basis: Lin Chung. Everyone calls him Lin, including 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 once someone bothers to conduct an actual investigation.
  • Meaningful Name: In ancient Greece, Phryne was a famous hetaera who was so beautiful that she served as the model for several statues of the goddess Aphrodite. Legend also has it she escaped a charge of impiety (which carried a death sentence) by baring her breasts to the jury.
  • 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.
  • Nice to the Waiter: In Murder In Montparnasse, this is how Elizabeth Chambers tests her prospective husband, a French chef. She disguises herself as a deaf-mute boy and works in his kitchen to see how he treats his employees and acts under stress. It should be noted that she'd wanted to do this by simply working in the kitchen without the disguise, but after her father flipped his shit at the idea, she had to come up with another plan.
  • 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.
  • One Steve Limit:
    • Margery Keith in Away With The Fairies and Margery Lemmon in Death By Water both happen to be the sprightly young nieces of Cool Old Guys.
    • An ex-girlfriend Lin Chung mentions in Murder in Montparnasse and Mrs. West in Death by Water are both acquisitive dancers named Jonquil (and the name comes in for mockery each time).
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Detective Inspector Robinson's first name is John, but everyone calls him Jack.
  • 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 a large sum of money to a little boy who works at the theater in order to encourage his acting.
  • Plot Hole: In Queen Of The Flowers, Anna Ross never identified Rory by his last name, contrary to what Jane says, nor did she refer to him as a piper, so what she told Ruth did not directly confirm what the notes said. In addition, no explanation is given as to why she only remembered James Murray as Hamish McGregor when she knew him for months beforehand as James Murray.
    • Death By Water: Why did the Wests keep going on cruises on the same ship when the same people kept foiling them each time they stole something? Why didn't the people in question try blackmailing them to stop stealing? Since the Melody Makers overheard it all, why didn't they tell P&O who was stealing the jewellery? Why didn't the Wests just 'steal' her pearls, claim the insurance and sell them later, in fact?
    • In Dead Man's Chest, Phryne identifies Maire as one of the people who took the Johnson couple's food from their house because she knew her way around the kitchen and supposedly had never been there before. But she had been there before- the previous day, when she first helped out Ruth, and Phryne knew that, so as a reveal, it doesn't make sense.
    • An important subplot in Murder In The Dark is a riddle game linked to the disappearance of a young child. But the answer to the final riddle is not revealed, despite its importance, and the hunt is not resolved- in the end, Phryne only realises the riddler's identity by seeing his handwriting later, and the riddles do not directly lead to the child's rescue.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain:
    • Leonard Brawn in Ruddy Gore, the book where Phryne first meets Lin Chung, who makes several sneering remarks about "Chinks."
    • Robert Sheridan in Blood and Circuses is a sleaze in general about women. Then not only does he murder the intersex Mr. Christopher, who he claims to love, he insists on misgendering him and referring to him as Christine, much to the fury of his victim's fiancé.
  • Prophetic Names: The late Mr. Tipping in "The Voice is Jacob's Voice" named his sons Jacob and Esau and then wrote his will so that only one of them would inherit. Honestly, what did he expect?
  • Protagonist Title
  • Public Exposure: Phryne worked as an artist's model in Paris after World War I. 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.
    • Dot is introduced in Cocaine Blues as Dorothy Bryant, but in later books is Dorothy Williams.
    • Jane starts out as a brunette with brown eyes, and in later books is a blonde with dark blue eyes. Her and Ruth's backstories are also retconned- Jane starts out with a dead father and a mother and grandmother who she lived with before each of them died, and was later retconned to her parents having given her to her grandmother and then wandering off and dying together. Ruth started off with having been in an orphanage after her parents died, and was later retconned to having a mother with TB and a father who is well and truly alive.
    • In Queen of the Flowers, Phryne says she isn't a good singer. In Murder and Mendelssohn, she's suddenly good enough to have sung with at least one choir in the past, and fits into another choir without anyone objecting.
  • 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.
  • Romance Novel: Phryne's adoptive daughter Ruth loves her Harlequins and her Mills and Boons. They get mixed up in Phryne's own subscription (she likes Murder Mystery and Police Procedural, naturally)... and when she absent-mindedly reads a bit of Midnight of the Sheik, she barely refrains from throwing the offending book at the wall, wondering why Ruth reads such rubbish. Jane is much more sensible... she likes John Glaister's Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology (which is not age-appropriate, or even fiction of any kind; it's a university-level textbook for aspiring coroners, so the 11-year-old Jane has clearly had a head start!)
  • 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?"
    • In Raisins and Almonds, characters repeating themselves with the emphasis on a different word each time.
    Simon Abrahams: My father wants to talk to Miss Fisher? My father wants to speak to Miss Fisher?
    • In The Castlemaine Murders, "Bury him under the hydrangeas." "But we don't have any hydrangeas."
  • 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.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: "John Bell" takes a Cyanide Pill at the summation of Away with the Fairies.
  • 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.
    • The series occasionally contains the same quips, presented as though they are entirely original, or call backs to earlier books, also presented as if they are original, suggesting that Greenwood (or her editor, if she has one) doesn't go back and check.
    • In Murder and Mendelssohn, one of Phryne's accomplishments is supposedly finding 'a treasure in Castlemaine'. The treasure in question was found by Lin Chung, and while Phryne did know about the search for the treasure, Lin Chung found it entirely without input from Phryne whatsoever.
    • In Death In Daylesford, Ember is referred to as a female kitten. In all prior appearances, he was male, and given the time in-universe between his first appearance (Murder On The Ballarat Train) and Death In Daylesford, he should be either fully grown or almost fully grown.
  • Sexless Marriage: One of the letter-writers in Away with the Fairies entered into one by mutual agreement. One of Miss Prout's many, many errors in her questionable advice is that she can't imagine a man who doesn't want sex with a woman.
  • Sexy Coat Flashing: The story of Phryne's namesake stripping in court is mentioned early in Cocaine Blues. Later, she keeps from being arrested by taking off her robe and threatening to go to the police station naked.
  • 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.
    • In The Castlemaine Murders, Phryne recalls the marriage market of the British aristocracy and muses that "Someone had married Lord Greystoke, admittedly, but he was just a large ape."
  • 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, Phryne'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 (or Phryne, for that matter), but the idea of a noble woman being a lesbian socialist would have huge repercussions for Eliza and her entire family in the day.
  • Spooky Séance: Several throughout the series.
    • In Death At Victoria Dock, a mostly Phony Psychic produces "ghosts" for revolutionaries which are contradicted by at least one of the men actually being alive, but then a genuine one turns up for Phryne with Something Only They Would Say.
    • In Ruddy Gore, a spiritualist meeting comes up with the ghost of Dorothea Curtis who, in retrospect, successfully identified her murderer, and is later implied to possess her daughter.
  • 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.
    • Then there's "The Joker" in Murder in the Dark, who is vehemently denied Joker Immunity. It's generally decided it's for the best that someone killed him after his latest murder attempt, especially since he's so good at escaping.
  • 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. Zigzagged 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 — but then, when Phryne first met her, she was about to stab a man for sexually harassing her and getting her fired in disgrace.
  • 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.
  • Transgender: Though the word hasn't appeared in English yet at this point in history, Molly Younger in Blood and Circuses clearly identifies as such.
    I'm a man, you stupid bitch. I'm a man. Cursed with this body, which is wrong and bleeds and betrays me. Formed wrong. Born wrong.
  • 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.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Lydia Andrews in Cocaine Blues. She's been steadily poisoning herself with small doses of arsenic and framing her husband for it, so that when she slips him a lethal dose he'll be assumed to be Hoist by His Own Petard.


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