Kerry Greenwood’s The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions: The Ultimate Miss Phryne Fisher Short Story Collection is pretty much exactly what it says on the cover. Featuring more than 16 stories related to the character, the fact the bulk of them had been printed before might make some hesitate. Yet there are a handful of new stories within, as well as other added material, all in a tight little package.
The first story “Hotel Splendide” is an interesting spin on an urban legend that seemed to originate appropriately in the 1920s. While in France the familiar detective hears from her friend that a hotel is denying they ever checked in. Greenwood as always produces a delightful spin on the material, up to and including her novel yet entirely believable solution. Indeed in a short time the reader is given Phryne’s style and methods, an entertaining look at her not only solving the case but also administering het own unique brand of justice.
It is somewhat unfortunate that readers reacted negatively to the use of this old concept, as it is well done and the author abandoned a similar idea due to the reception this piece recieved. While not the shining achievement in the series, the story deserved a more positive reaction.
“The Chocolate Factory” is new to this collection. Starting with our lead posing for a portrait, it quickly descends as her friend, a spectacular chocolate maker, sends samples which turn out to have been clearly and deliberately spiked with mustard. As almost anyone could tell you, the likelihood of a negative reaction to this would be high. Fisher promptly pushes forward with a quick investigation, both for the sake of her friend and as a lover of chocolate. This story is a nice relatively low stakes piece, one which gives the entertaining view of Miss Fisher putting a young man in his place regarding unwanted advances. Given she is a character who is extremely unafraid of her sexuality, it is nice to have the author make it clear she has her own limits and standards.
Themes of economics appear in both stories to one degree or another. This includes a number of features but the status of a small business being endangered is the most obvious. Such is common through the series, and appreciated given Greenwood’s past work in the setting.
A wonderful feature of this particular volume comes in the form of a forward titled “On Phryne Fisher.” In it the author not only discusses the origins of the character but takes the time to detail her writing process and even reactions to the stories in this volume which had been previously published. This overall upbeat look at even negative reactions is refreshing, and appreciated by anyone who likes looking into the writing process.
There is also a nice glossary at the end, helping the reader if an early 1920s term is out of reach. In the day of smartphones this might not be necessary, but it is surely appreciated.
Kerry Greenwood’s work is almost always entertaining, and there are multiple wonderful examples gathered together in this volume. While those first meeting Phryne Fisher would do well to start with one of the novels, even as a beginning this collection is not really a bad way to go. For existing fans of the the character or author it is all but unmissable, due in no small part to the first appearances of multiple stories featuring the character.
(Poison Pen Press, 2022)