Parker Pyne Investigates
First published in the UK 1934 by Collins Mystery
This edition Collins, 1980
248 pages in print
Source: Cambridgeshire Public Libraries withdrawn stock
Parker Pyne is one of Mrs Offences favourites, and is my first entry for this month’s Crimes of the Century, which is looking at 1934.
Mr Pyne is a large retired chap with a friendly demeanour, formerly employed by the government, who now advertises his services as a happiness consultant.
‘you see, for thirty-five years of my life I have 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…’
In this edition he appears in twelve stand-alone stories. In the first six, he sorts out people’s romantic entanglements or helps them find happiness by engineering their lives in various ways. In these efforts he is greatly helped by his associates, the lounge lizard Claude Luttrell and the vampish Madeleine de Sara. Inspiring jealousy in wayward partners is no problem with those two around. Poirot fans should note that Parker Pyne employs both Miss Lemon, and Ariadne Oliver (installed in the office upstairs, recycling old plots into adventures for his clients). Together they help a middle-aged wife, a discontented soldier, a distressed lady, a discontented husband, a city clerk and a rich woman. The story of the rich woman is far-fetched but memorable, a bit of a parable about what is truly valuable in life.
She stood there with the dying sun behind her, a great blue-green cabbage in her hands, her head thrown back and her shoulders squared. A grand figure of a peasant woman outlined against the setting sun…
In the second half of the book, Mr Pyne embarks upon a tour of the Middle East, visiting Iran, Egypt and winding up at Delphi for the final story. These stories are more typically Christie-esque and see him tackling kidnapping, fraud, impersonation, theft and murder.
Entertaining reads, and I must confess to enjoying the first six stories more than the final six, even if they are slightly reminiscent of stories in the People’s Friend…
I’ll wind up with some of the statistical wisdom of Mr Pyne:
‘Human troubles are easily classified into a few main heads. There is ill health. There is boredom. There are wives who are in trouble over their husbands. There are husbands who are in trouble over their wives.’
‘The brain is adjusted to carry so much weight. The thing that precipitates the crisis – that turns an honest man into a dishonest one – may be a mere trifle. That is why most crimes are absurd.’
‘I can assure you that in eighty-seven per cent. of cases dishonesty does not pay. Eighty-seven per cent. Think of it!’
Final destination: A keeper
Clothes in Books: Really enjoyable short stories – unrealistic but fun, and complete in themselves. They are silly, but strangely memorable, and occasionally affecting, and you wonder if PP or Christie might have been onto something. If she hadn’t had such a huge success with her other books, she might have carved out a little niche with these tales. And, PP isn’t half as annoying as Poirot.
Wordsmithonia: Like Harley Quinn, Parker Pyne is one of Agatha Christie’s more fascinating protagonists. They are both unique characters that some how manage to stay in your mind long after you read the very few books about them. I wish she had written more than she did. Since she didn’t, the few books she did write about them will have to mean all that much more. I love the uniqueness she brought to Parker Pyne, I could only wish that other authors could match up to her talent.
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.