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Literature / Parker Pyne Investigates

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Are You Happy? If Not, Consult Mr. Parker Pyne.

Mr. C. Parker Pyne is a character featured in fourteen short stories by Agatha Christie in the 1930s. Twelve were collected in Parker Pyne Investigates in 1934; two more stories, written later, appeared in the US-only collection The Regatta Mystery and the UK-only collection Problem at Pollensa Bay.

The first six stories depict Parker Pyne's profession: He boasts that he has discovered the underlying principles of human nature and can solve any kind of unhappiness — for, of course, a suitable fee. Each story has a different client consulting him with their problems, and he arranging for their lives to gain an appropriate dash of adventure, romance, or whatever else they're lacking. These stories are not conventional detective stories, with the main mystery in most of them being the question of what exactly Parker Pyne has planned.

The next six stories have Parker Pyne on holiday and journeying to various countries around the Mediterranean, in each of which he gets involved in a mystery either by having his name recognised from his professional advertisements or because he sees a problem and feels obliged to intervene. These are more conventional mystery stories, with Parker Pyne unravelling cases of deception, theft, and even murder.

The final two stories also depict Parker Pyne finding new problems while on holiday, in Majorca in "Problem at Pollensa Bay" and in Devon in "The Regatta Mystery".

In 1982, "The Case of the Discontented Soldier" and "The Case of the Middle-aged Wife" were adapted as episodes of The Agatha Christie Hour, with Maurice Denham as Parker Pyne.

    The stories 
  • "The Case of the Discontented Soldier" (1932)
  • "The Case of the Middle-aged Wife" (1932)
  • "The Case of the Distressed Lady" (1932)
  • "The Case of the Discontented Husband" (1932)
  • "The Case of the City Clerk" (1932)
  • "The Case of the Rich Woman" (1932)

  • "Have You Got Everything You Want?" (1933)
  • "The Gate of Baghdad" (1933)
  • "The House at Shiraz" (1933)
  • "The Pearl of Price" (1933)
  • "Death on the Nile" (1933)
  • "The Oracle at Delphi" (1933)

  • "Problem at Pollensa Bay" (1935)
  • "The Regatta Mystery" (1936)

These stories provide examples of:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: The romantic idea of having reformed a bad boy comes up in several of the stories. One involves an inoffensive young man who has become entangled in events which make him seem worse than he is; Parker Pyne advises him to let his new wife believe that he was bad and that her influence has redeemed him. In another case, the bad boy is one of Parker Pyne's employees and the entire redemption arc turns out to have been plotted out in advance to boost the female client's self-esteem.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: In "The Regatta Mystery", Isaac Pointz and Leo Stein are London diamond merchants, and the description of Mr Pointz includes "his dark and slightly Oriental face". Names, occupation, and appearance add up to suggest Jewishness, but the story never comes right out and says it.
  • Author Avatar: "The Case of the Discontented Soldier" is the first appearance of Ariadne Oliver, a cheerful, boisterious author of mystery fiction who is an obvious avatar for Agatha Christie herself. Ariadne Oliver would later become a recurring character in the Hercule Poirot series.
  • Beneath the Mask: One story ends by following the impossibly glamorous Madeleine de Sara home, where she lives with her respectable working-class mother as Maggie Sayers.
  • Busman's Holiday: Out of fourteen stories, eight involve Parker Pyne being dragged into a mystery while on holiday. Six take place during a single holiday around the Mediterranean, much to his mounting annoyance. In one case he goes under a false name to enjoy some peace and quiet and still gets involved.
  • Character Overlap: Miss Felicity Lemon, Parker Pyne's secretary, and Ariadne Oliver, a mystery writer who acts as a consultant scenarist for his more elaborate deceptions, are both better known as associates of Hercule Poirot.
  • Confronting Your Imposter: In "The Oracle at Delphi", the Parker Pyne who has been assisting in a kidnapping case is unmasked as an impostor working with the kidnappers — by the real Parker Pyne, who had checked into the same hotel under a false name in an attempt to avoid getting dragged into any more mysteries.
  • Cyanide Pill: In "The Gate of Baghdad", after being caught, the murderer uses a cigarette laced with prussic acid to kill themselves.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: The last two Parker Pyne stories were both originally written as Hercule Poirot stories.
  • False Crucible: Parker Pyne seems fond of these in his work. Many of his clients, after forking over the fee, found themselves involved in unusual and sometimes dangerous events that, unbeknownst to them, were staged by Parker Pyne in order to supply the experience or mental outlook that would help them to find happiness.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: Invoked in "The Case of the Rich Woman", where the titular rich woman ends up in a rural farm with everyone around her thinking she's been there for years, with a newspaper clipping about the other woman being taken to a hospital claiming she was just a farm girl.
  • Genre Savvy: The early Parker Pyne stories are mainly genre parodies, with Parker Pyne identifying what genre his client belongs in and then invoking the appropriate tropes to give them a happy ending. It's never stated that baldly in the stories themselves, although "The Case of the Discontented Soldier" has a conversation with Ariadne Oliver where he wonders if they're laying on the adventure clichés too thick and she assures him that the clichés serve to unconsciously reassure the clients because events are proceeding as fiction has taught them to expect.
  • Identical Stranger: In "The Case of the Rich Woman", the title character apparently has a doppelganger who is a poor servant girl. The truth is rather more complicated.
  • Legendary Impostor: By the end of the series, Parker Pyne's reputation (or at least his advertising) has spread far enough that somebody thinks it worthwhile to run a con pretending to be him.
  • My Beloved Smother: Several of Pyne's clients have difficulty realizing their sons are old enough to live their own lives.
  • Older Than They Look: In one story, the solution depends on the fact that an apparent teenager is actually a professional criminal in her late twenties.
  • Omniscient Morality License: "Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne" — who will probably lie to you, and on odd occasions may deliberately expose you to physical danger, but you will end up happy. His staff occasionally question his methods, but he's the expert on human nature, so there's not much they can do once he assures them that it's all for the best. (This would be easier to take if there weren't that one story where the twist ending is that Parker Pyne is after all capable of getting it horribly wrong.) It's probably meant to be covered by Rule of Funny.
  • Operation: Jealousy:
    • In "The Case of the Middle Aged Wife", Parker Pyne lends Claude Luttrell, a gigolo, to pamper the client, whose husband soon comes to his senses when he saw the two dancing together when they meet in a night club.
    • In "The Case of the Discontented Husband", Parker Pyne arranges for the client to be seen flirting with Madeleine de Sara, to inspire his wife to jealousy and a desire for reconciliation. It goes horribly wrong when the client decides that he'd rather have Madeleine in any case, while Madeleine sees him as just another client.
    • "Problem at Pollensa Bay" has him set up another one. A young man is dating a woman his mother disapproves of, so he brings in Madeleine as a Spicy Latina to charm the socks off the man. With both women now commiserating over the loss, he then arranges for the young man to "come to his senses" (although he was't entirely unaffected by Madeleine).
  • Out-Gambitted: In one of the stories, a client attempts to manipulate Pyne's office to steal her employer's diamond ring for her. Pyne manages to discover the truth, but plays along with the client's scheme, only to reveal, after she had paid his expenses, that he's already figured out her trick and foiled it. The client angrily storms out of the office when she realises that she had paid him for nothing.
  • Rescue Romance: Invoked in "The Case of the Discontented Soldier". Parker Pyne hires some thugs to attack Freda Clegg when Major Wilbraham was around (by Pyne's instructions). The ensuing rescue eventually leads them to getting married.
  • Rich Boredom: This is the client's problem in "The Case of the Rich Woman".
  • Romantic Fakeā€“Real Turn:
    • In "The Case of the Discontented Husband", Parker Pyne arranges for the client to be seen flirting with Madeleine de Sara, to inspire his wife to jealousy and a desire for reconciliation, but it winds up with the client declaring that he's genuinely in love with Madeleine. (She doesn't reciprocate.)
    • In "Problem at Pollensa Bay", Parker Pyne deploys Madeleine in a similar fashion to help a young man whose mother disapproves of his fiancée by demonstrating that he might choose somebody his mother disapproves of even more. He gets a crush on Madeleine, but by now it's apparently happened enough (Parker Pyne describes it as "the usual slight attack of Madeleinitis") that Madeleine knows how to steer clear until it wears off.
  • Sock It to Them: In "The Gate of Baghdad", the killer attempts to make it look like the murder victim had been coshed with a sock full of sand by planting damp sand in the spare socks carried by one of the other passengers.
  • Spy Fiction: Invoked in "The Case of the City Clerk", with the client sent on an adventure that's a complicated mixture of staged spy fiction clichés and genuine espionage.
  • Tainted Tobacco: In "The Gate of Baghdad", the killer, having been exposed, lights a cigarette and delivers their Motive Rant and then keels over dead. Parker Pyne sniffs the cigarette and declares that it was laced with prussic acid.
  • Tap on the Head: In "The Case of the Discontented Soldier", the client is genuinely knocked unconscious as part of a fake abduction being staged for his benefit; it doesn't seem to have occurred to his helpful abductors that he might end up with a unhelpful subdural haematoma (but fortunately, this being Christie, he doesn't).
  • The Vamp: Parker Pyne has two exceedingly attractive persons on staff, Madeleine de Sara and Claude Luttrell, whom he uses for seduction purposes.
  • Woobie of the Week: Each short story features a protagonist who is unhappy about their life in some way, and it's up to Mr. Pyne and his crew to help them find their happiness.