The Honourable Phryne Fishershe of the Lulu bob, green eyes, Cupid’s Bow lips, and diamanté gartersis the 1920s’ most elegant and irrepressible sleuth.
This sparkling collection of Phryne short stories and other Phryne miscellanyincluding Phryne’s favourite shoes and hats, delicious cocktail recipes, and her best tips for discouraging unwanted admirers forms a gorgeously collectable treat for all Phryne fans.
Lavishly illustrated with divine color illustrations by Beth Norling, A Question of Death will bring joy to the hearts of Phryne Fisher fans everywhere.
About the Author
Kerry Greenwood is the author of more than 40 novels and six non-fiction books. Among her many honors, Ms. Greenwood1 has received the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers’ Association of Australia. When she is not writing she is an advocate in Magistrates’ Courts for the Legal Aid Commission. She is not married, has no children and lives with a registered Wizard.
Read an Excerpt
A Question of Death
By Kerry Greenwood, Beth Norling
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2007 Kerry Greenwood
All rights reserved.
Desperate diseases demand desperate remedies
'But please! You must know me! Oh, why won't you help me?'
Phryne Fisher, sitting in the lobby of her Paris hotel, laid down The Times (Fog on Channel: Continent Isolated. Snow on Points at Haslemere. Plague in Bombay, Thousands Stricken. Test Team Defeated in Australia) and turned at the sound of the plaintive, flat, Australian vowels. Born in Richmond to a cleaning lady and a drunken remittance man, christened Phryne the courtesan instead of Psyche the nymph, so poor that she had challenged the big boys for the old tomatoes from the pig bins of Victoria Market before being whisked to England, an Hon to her name and wealth. She had no reason to remember Australia with any favour. But the voice brought back hot sun, eucalyptus leaves, ice cream made of real cream. She folded the paper and listened.
'Phryne! We'll miss the first act of the Nibelungs!' urged Alain Descourt. He was soigné, fascinating and rich. The only flaw in his character that Phryne had so far discovered was a devotion to Wagner. He made the mistake of laying a hand on Phryne's arm. One did not try to compel Miss Fisher. She stood, quite deliberately, and went over to the desk.
"Mais, Madame ... je ne sais pas!' protested the patron in the most arrogant, fast, slurred French at his disposal. Phryne knew that he prided himself on his perfect English. She had no time for Parisian games with what was evidently a distressed Australian.
"Alors, Jean-Paul?' she asked acidly. Phryne's French was very quick and accurate, and she was well known to the Hotel Splendide as an English milady with limitless wealth and nice taste in young men. Jean-Paul threw out his arms in a wide gesture which almost, but not quite, toppled his coffee cup.
'This is Madame Johnson. Twice she has been here tonight! The lady is as mad as birds,' he said. "Folle comme des oiseaux! She says that she and her husband came here, but there is no signature in the register, and we do not have the passports, which is the law, as you know, milady. She never came here.'
He showed Phryne the red-leather register in which there was no entry for Johnson. Phryne shoved the register over to Mrs Johnson.
'Hello,' she said, giving the woman her scented black-gloved hand. 'My name is Phryne Fisher. Can I help you?'
'Thank God!' exclaimed Mrs Johnson. 'They won't believe me. They've stolen my husband!' she said, and burst into tears. Again, by the look of her.
'Jean-Paul,' said Phryne quietly, 'if a large pot of coffee and a bottle of the good cognac is not placed in the blue withdrawing room within the next minute, I will be quite cross.'
Jean-Paul heaved a martyred sigh, snapped his fingers, gave the order to an underling, and exchanged a glance with Alain Descourt. Women, the glance said. Nothing to be done about them.
Phryne manoeuvred her charge to the small room, supplied her with a handkerchief, a soft chair, a glass of cognac and a cup of coffee, and sat down to await coherence. Husbands, regrettably, did go astray in Paris. It was a very good city for going astray in. Usually they came back penniless from Montmartre, reeking of cheap perfume and guilt.
Mrs Johnson was young and would have been pretty before she had wept her face into sodden misery. She wore a good but colonial travelling costume, evidently purchased in Melbourne. Her favourite colour was pink. She had walked a long way in shoes not meant for distance. At some point she had fallen and landed heavily on both knees. She was certainly distraught, but she had spoken in sentences. Phryne reserved her decision as to her charge's actual mental state. And while Phryne dealt with this Distressed British Subject, the Ring of the Nibelungs would be bellowing along and perhaps she might only have to endure the last act.
Finally Mrs Johnson sniffed, gulped, gasped, and sipped some coffee.
'Can you tell me about it?' asked Phryne.
Mrs Johnson found that she was talking to a dazzling woman dressed in an evening dress of scarlet brocade with black gloves and a diamond clip. There was a band of diamonds around one upper arm and around her throat. She had black hair cut in a cap and the most piercing green eyes. A young man hovered discontentedly in the background.
'I came here from the station,' she said. 'With my husband. Arthur. We came off the Orient and took the train to Paris.'
'Yes,' said Phryne. 'The Gare du Nord.'
'Then we took a taxi to this hotel. We registered—I'm sure I saw Arthur sign! They took our passports and showed us to Room 311A. We put down our things and had a bath—you get so filthy travelling on the train. Then Arthur said he felt sick.
He was running a temperature. I asked that manager—that little rat who pretends he doesn't know me!—to get a doctor.
The doctor came, a young man. He told me to go out and get some medicine from a pharmacy, so I went, and when I got to the pharmacy they didn't have it, and I didn't have any more money for any more taxis, so I walked to another pharmacy and they didn't have it either, so I came back here. It was a long way. I must have been gone two hours.'
'Do you still have the prescription?' asked Phryne.
'No, the second chemist kept it. He said he'd send it on. Then I got lost. I've never been to Paris before. I got scared and ... a man ... spoke to me and I ran and fell. But I found my way back here and then ... all this has happened.'
'Are you sure that this is the right Hotel Splendide? It's a common hotel name in Paris.'
'Yes, of course! I know the clerk. And the furnishings.'
'Interesting,' murmured Phryne. She was full of admiration. This young woman, a total stranger in one of the most confusing cities in the world, had accomplished a fine feat of backtracking to get to her destination again. Even now, under the influence of cognac, coffee and a sympathetic listener, she was beginning to recover. They bred 'em tough in Australia. She deserved support.
And when you returned, the clerk said ...?' Phryne prompted, raising her voice over the sounds of a discontented young man making 'we're missing the opera' noises at a side table.
'He said he never saw me before and there was no room 311A. He showed me. There isn't, either. Just a blank wall. No space for the key in the key board behind the clerk. No name in the register. This trip was our honeymoon,' said Mrs Johnson. 'It was wonderful—Egypt, India and Ceylon, and all that. I never knew people could be so happy. I've never been apart from Arthur from the day we were married. And now he's gone. Like he's never been.'
She started to cry again. The rodent which Phryne had detected had grown into a Sumatran beast which Sherlock Holmes might have had to deal with.
'You will stay here,' she said gently. 'Alain will divert you with stories from the opera. I will go and interview the clerk. I will be back soon,' she said. She rose gracefully and withdrew.
'Talk to me, Jean-Paul,' she murmured to the patron, leaning confidingly on the desk. 'The lady's story is very collected for a madwoman.'
'I will show you myself,' said the patron. 'Jacques! Mind the desk.'
While he was turned away Phryne quickly flicked the register open at another page. 'Why, how curious,' she commented. 'This is a new register. And I could have sworn, when I came in, that there were pages and pages left in the old one. What a busy hotel this is, to be sure.'
'Indeed,' murmured Jean-Paul, giving her an uneasy glance. Still, she was only a woman, though a clever one. 'This way, milady.'
The third floor was reached by a hydraulic elevator and Jean-Paul opened the two sets of doors with a flourish. 'There is no room 311A,' he said. 'As milady can see.'
The Hotel Splendide ran to red plush wallpaper and Empire furnishings, picked out in gilt. Phryne paced the corridor until she came to the last room on the left, 310. Opposite it was 311. After that there was just an expanse of vermilion to the corner. Phryne, one hand against the wall, leaned down to adjust a stocking and rewarded Jean-Paul with a flash of pearly knee.
'I see,' she murmured. 'Yes. Well, let us go down by the stairs.'
Jean-Paul offered the distinguished lady his arm and she accepted. He glanced down at the composed face under the diamond headdress and saw her lips moving. She might have been counting. There was, he reflected, no understanding the nobility. When she smiled at him in the lobby, however, he was certain that he had convinced her. She had the innocent smile of a happy baby. He went back to his desk, whistling 'Auprès de ma Blonde'.
Phryne returned to the withdrawing room. Alain was just concluding the plot of Tristan und Isolde. Mrs Johnson was looking rather glazed. Wagner had the same effect on Phryne. She sympathised.
'Then she sings her last song and dies,' he concluded.
'And not before time,' said Phryne. 'Now, Mrs Johnson—'
'Call me Beth?' asked Mrs Johnson. She was much recovered, red-eyed but not likely to have hysterics. Phryne thanked providence for the healing gift of brandy.
'Beth, then. And I am Phryne. Did you catch the name of the doctor?'
'Dupont,' said Beth, biting her lower lip to aid concentration.
'The Paris equivalent of Smith. I thought so. And ... what can you smell?'
She held the palm of her left glove to Beth's face. She sniffed.
'Jicky. Rice powder. And wallpaper paste.'
'Precisely. I have two more questions. Do you trust me? And will you do as I ask you?'
'I have a question, too,' said Beth Johnson. 'Do you believe me?'
'Every word,' said Phryne. The nail-bitten hand clutched the black glove in a firm grip.
'Then the answer is yes and yes.'
'Good. Alain, we need you.'
'Were already late,' fretted Alain.
'There are other nights/ said Phryne, in such a meaningful voice that Beth Johnson blushed and Alain rocked a little on his heels. 'I promise I will sit through the whole Ring Cycle with you in future. I am asking for your assistance as a true son of France with the aim of preventing a catastrophe to Paris. Will you help us?'
Alain, veteran of Verdun, patriotic to his cynical core, stood up straight and saluted. 'Your orders, my colonel?'
'You need to find the nearest doctor and bring him here. Don't waste time looking for this Dupont. The woods are full of them. Just the nearest.'
'That would be my old comrade, the army doctor Lestrange. He lives just off the Place l'Opera. Where a fine production of Wagner is even now ending its first act,' he added with emphasis. Phryne ignored this.
'Go get him, and speedily. Meanwhile I am going to tell Jean-Paul that madame has admitted the error of her ways, and I am taking her to rest in my suite before we set out to find the real Hotel Splendide where her husband is doubtless waiting for her.'
'Hey!' objected Beth. She received a forty-watt glare and subsided. 'Very well, Phryne.'
'Come along,' said Phryne, and swept them away.
* * *
Beth Johnson had had such a strange evening that the rest of it could not have been odder. She was, however, sure that this elegant lady had the matter in hand and that, however confusing things might yet become, somewhere at the end of it she would find Arthur. So she obediently ate a small but delicious supper, allowed her feet to be bathed by a deferential maid, and snuggled into a sofa in Miss Fisher's palatial rooms. She was wrapped in a fleecy gown and was a little muzzy with cognac. But she did not feel like crying anymore, even though she had been provided with a new perfumed handkerchief.
In an hour, the tall young man was back with a scowling, black-bearded doctor. Mrs Johnson opined that she would not like to meet him down a dark alley. But he bowed politely over her hand and bowed even more deeply over Phryne's.
'Milady,' said Dr Lestrange. 'Had my addle-pated friend told me that the summons came from you, I should not have demurred. I have never forgotten that ambulance rocketing into our hospital under shellfire, and the shock I got when I saw that the driver was not only a lady, but a beautiful one.'
'Very pretty speech,' approved Phryne. 'Thank you for coming. Now, I am about to do something thoroughly unlawful, and if you do not want to watch I should stay here with madame until I have done it.'
'What is this act of illegality?' asked Alain.
'I am going to set fire to the hotel,' said Phryne. 'Come when you smell smoke.'
The door closed. The two men eyed each other uneasily.
'Does she mean what she says?' asked Lestrange.
'Invariably,' sighed Alain.
'And we are going to wait until we smell smoke?'
'Of course,' said Alain. 'Me, I am not clever. But milady—she is. She knew who was stealing from my father's vineyard seconds after I told her about it and constructed a trap which caught the thief and freed an old servant of the estate from suspicion. So if she says she is going to burn the hotel down, then she will do as she says, and I will do as I am told.'
'Your lamb-like faith does you credit,' said Lestrange. 'And certainly she has no fear. She drove Toupie's ambulances through hell and around shell holes as cool as some cucumbers ... ah,' he added, as shouts of 'Fire!' and the clanging of a big bell offended the quiet precincts of the Hotel Splendide. 'And now?'
We go out,' said Alain. 'And up.'
Beth Johnson had not understood one word in ten of the fast, idiomatic French. She leapt to her feet and shucked her woolly gown. Alain offered his arm and they went out into smoke-filled corridors, threading their way up through the frightened throng to the third floor.
There they saw, in the thinning reek, Phryne Fisher in her scarlet brocade wielding a poker. She was attacking the blank wall beyond room 311.
'Come and help,' she yelled. 'We haven't got much time.'
Galvanised, both men came to her side and found that she had peeled a swathe of wallpaper away from what was palpably a door. Beth Johnson attacked it with her fingernails.
'They did a remarkably good job in such a short time,' said Phryne dispassionately. 'New register, bit of coloured wax in the key board, fast work with the red plush. But it was still wet when I touched it.'
'Can you get the door open or shall I find a jemmy?' asked Lestrange.
'No need,' said Phryne, producing a key from her bosom. 'I pinched it out of Jean-Paul's drawer when his back was turned. Beth, perhaps you should stay here. We don't know what we are going to find—'
'We're going to find Arthur,' said Beth Johnson. 'And dead or alive, he is my husband.'
The door creaked open. A gust of stale air puffed out. Trunks were stacked against the far wall. The bed was occupied.
Beth screamed and flung herself on her husband's body. Lestrange pushed her gently aside and leaned down close to listen at the cracked lips.
'He's alive,' he said. 'Just. I need water, cold water.'
'Why did they do all this? What's wrong with him?' said Alain from the doorway.
'Ask your friend,' said Phryne. 'Beth, can you get that window open?'
'He's got a high fever,' said Lestrange.
'Check the armpits and groin for swelling,' instructed Phryne.
'You suspect ...' began Alain. 'That is why you said it would be a catastrophe for Paris? You think it's....'
'There is plague in India,' replied Phryne. 'It was in the paper I was reading. The Orient calls at Bombay.'
'But we didn't land there.' Beth Johnson lost patience with the window latch and broke the pane with the heel of her mistreated shoe. 'We went on. We never stopped at Bombay.'
'Jean-Paul leapt to the wrong conclusion. Doctor Lestrange? What's wrong with your patient?'
'Why, malaria, of course,' said Lestrange gruffly. 'Thousands of thunders! Is someone going to get me some water, or shall I go myself? And, please, Miss Fisher, is this hotel going to burn down around us?'
'No. I lit a wastepaper basket full of rags at each landing. They will be out by now. Any moment Jean-Paul will pound up the stairs and demand—'
'What is going on here?' came the patrons voice from the corridor.
Phryne smiled seraphically, diamonds glittering as she moved. 'Such timing. Ah, Jean-Paul. This is going to be a very expensive evening's work for you.'
'Milady? What are you doing? Mad, like all the English.'
'Almost convincing, patron. This man has malaria, not the plague. His wife has almost been driven out of her mind, and how long were you going to leave Arthur Johnson in that sealed room?'
Phryne could see various options flit across Jean-Paul's face. Stout denial? Not plausible. Outraged hotel owner? He could already hear the tone of milady's contemptuous laugh. Complete and utter submission and explanation? Nasty but feasible. His hotel, which he had striven all his life to expand and guard, was already lost. No travellers would ever come here again after milady told her tale.
'Vae victis,' he said, raising both hands. 'Woe to the conquered. Command me.'
'Move Mr Johnson into a suite and bring whatever Dr Lestrange orders, and do it with amazing speed.'
Phryne waited while a covey of attendants carried Arthur Johnson downstairs to the Royal Suite and scurried off in search of the potions Dr Lestrange required. Beth Johnson walked beside the stretcher, holding the slack hot hand in her own. She had forgotten everyone else in the world. For the first time in her life, Beth Johnson was beautiful. Phryne beckoned to the patron.
'Come with me, Jean-Paul.'
Excerpted from A Question of Death by Kerry Greenwood, Beth Norling. Copyright © 2007 Kerry Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsOn Phryne Fisher, ix,
Hotel Splendide, 1,
The Voice is Jacob's Voice, 19,
Marrying the Bookie's Daughter, 41,
The Vanishing of Jock McHale's Hat, 73,
Puttin' on the Ritz, 91,
The Body in the Library, 105,
The Miracle of St Mungo, 113,
Overheard on a Balcony, 129,
The Hours of Juana the Mad, 153,
Death Shall be Dead, 175,
The Camberwell Wonder, 213,
Come, Sable Night, 233,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a beautiful little hard-back book with wonderful color illustrations on each page. If you already love Phryne Fisher, you will love it! If you have never met Phryne before, it is a good little sampler of short stories about her adventures. Kerry Greenwood has written 19 Phryne Fisher books, and the rest are full-length novels. If you wonder why, if she is so great, you have not heard of her (Phryne) before, my only guess is that the fact that she is Australian puts her out of the American main-stream. Also, she has the same attitude toward the opposite sex that James Bond has. She doesn't want to break their hearts, but she adores beatiful young men - all beatiful young men - as long as they respect her in return. This is a Phryne Fisher treasury of stories & other fun Phryne stuff, and it was worth every penny. If they had let me, I would have recommended ALL of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher books!
Short stories, recipes, and artwork, so beautiful that I had to get my own copy, a Christmas present to myself, in order to be able to return the library's.
A Question of Death is a collection of short stories, recipes, information and tips from Kerry Greenwood’s popular Phyrne Fisher. Greenwood tells how Phryne came to be, and the writing process she follows with these novels. There is a baker’s dozen of short stories featuring the inimitable Phryne: she helps a distraught Australian wife in Paris; at one of her exclusive soirees, Death attends thrice; Phryne avenges a badly-done-by secretary, restores Collingwood’s chances at an important match, retrieves purloined pearls for a good cause, uncovers a brothel, gambles for an important locket, riddles with a book thief, assists in a case of four dead bodies, foils a snake at the circus, and helps prove the innocence of a confessor to a murder; Christmas in June turns deadly for a blackmailer and a playboy meets a deserving end. On tastefully tinted pages with beautiful watermarks and charming illustrations, Phryne gives tips on discouraging overenthusiastic suitors, and recipes are provided for cocktails, cakes and some sumptuous dishes. Lavish colour illustrations by Beth Norling grace the first page of each chapter. This little gem of a book will be welcomes by Phryne fans everywhere.