Some of Agatha Christie's most interesting characters are to be found in her short stories. Hercule Poirot is at his best, I think, in the short story collection called The Labors of Hercules, and Miss Marple shines in the stories found in The Tuesday Club Murders. Some of her other detectives, such as Harley Quin, are only available in short doses.
And then, of course, there is Mr. Parker Pyne.
Mr. Pyne found his clients through small, discreet newspaper advertisements in the personal columns of The Times: ARE YOU HAPPY? IF NOT, CONSULT MR. PARKER PYNE, 17 Richmond Street. That’s all. No other information was provided in the ad. Who was this person, this Parker Pyne? Was he some kind of psychologist or psychiatrist, analyzing someone to determine what might make that person happy? Not at all. He was, in fact, a pleasant, middle-aged man, now retired – and planning to fill his time (and supplement his income) by making people happy. You'll find out how he does so by reading the stories in Agatha Christie's Parker Pyne Investigates, first published in 1934. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you are welcome to listen to the complete review by clicking here.
Who, then, is Mr. Parker Pyne? And what exactly does he “investigate”? Here is how he describes himself to a would-be client, who has come to find out whether he can help her find – or regain – her lost happiness:
For thirty-five years of my life I have been engaged in the compiling of statistics in a government office. Now I have retired, and it has occurred to me to use the experience I have gained in a novel fashion. It is all so simple. Unhappiness can be classified under five main heads – no more, I assure you. Once you know the cause of a malady, the remedy should not be impossible.
Rather clearly, Mr. Pyne’s approach to some of life’s problems is going to be unique – and readers should be advised that most of the stories do not deal with murder. Mr. Parker Pyne is not a police detective and the cases in which he becomes involved really do deal with happiness. You will find stories about wives seeking to renew their husband’s interest in their marriages and also with husbands hoping to keep their wives from leaving them. Sometimes, Mr. Pyne finds the best way to help is through staging some elaborate scene, which may refresh his clients and open new possibilities for them. Some of the stories deal with jewelry thefts. There is a rich woman who finds life thoroughly boring. There is a retired army man who secretly longs for just a little more excitement in his life. There is a mother whose son is kidnapped and needs help recovering him. And, yes, there are a couple of stories about murder, too.
The original collection of short stories, published as Parker Pyne Investigates, contained 12 of the 14 stories written by Agatha Christie that feature Mr. Parker Pyne. She later wrote two additional stories. The collection that I see now on Amazon, both in print and in e-book format, appears to have all 14 of the stories; the edition in my own library just has the original twelve. No matter; the additional stories are a bonus gift.
(By the way, if you listen to the podcast this week, please note that I managed to trap myself. When I recorded the podcast, it was mid-summer, and I say so in the recording. Good intentions and late book arrivals resulted in rescheduling the podcast to run now, making myself sound foolish about the date. Sigh. Serves me right.)