I just finished re-reading Parker Pyne Investigates (or Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective in the US.) I’d read this book many years ago, and enjoyed it. Coming back to the book older (and hopefully wiser), I noticed some flaws with the book. The first and foremost is that it doesn’t live up to its promise. The advertisement for Pyne reads "Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne."
The first few stories of the collection are more tales of manipulation. How can the main character be moved into a situation where they are happy or more content with their lot in life? We are shown cases of bored pukah sahibs, unhappy rich widows and such. Pyne, who says that there are only 5 types of unhappiness (though sadly we’re never told what they are), goes to his files and finds the proper scenario to make them happy. My favorite by far is The Case of the Rich Woman, which shows that money cannot buy happiness.
He is ably assisted by Ariadne Oliver, who appears in two stories in this collection, well before her more formal introduction in Cards on the Table. Not much is different about her from story to novel, which isn’t particularly a surprise, since she was loosely based on Christie herself.
After the first burst of stories though, the tales become more familiar. Jewels are stolen, children are kidnapped, people are murdered. It was almost as if Christie had run out of fresh idea for the character before she ran out of required words for the collection. John Curran has little to say about the collection, other than it came during a remarkably productive period in her life.
|My 1st edition of this book|
So we’re left with almost two collections, the first light-hearted and adventurous and the second more traditional class mystery tales. That’s not to say that any of the stories are weak, but they are not her best either.
She does seem to have cannibalized a great deal of this collection for her later works. As mentioned earlier, Christie reuses Ariadne Oliver in Cards on the Table. A particular plot twist from the “House at Shiraz” is reused later in a later book. Another of the stories is entitled “Death on the Nile” which appeared later that same decade as a novel. The two share little else in common than the title. In the short version, an older woman wants to hire Parker Pyne to learn if her husband is poisoning her. In one of the best lines of the book, Pyne asks her if she is hoping that he is not poisoning her or if she is hoping that he is poisoning her. A very interesting look at the psyche of an unhappy woman.