I recently read and reviewed Agatha Christie’s The Hound of Death – the first collection of Christie’s shorter works that I’ve read. The lovely Nicki who blogs at The Secret Library Book Blog suggested that I might like Parker Pyne Investigates. It so happens that I already owned a copy, and so I bumped it up the TBR on Nicki’s recommendation. If you’re not already following Nicki’s blog, please do so. Not only does she write great reviews, but she is such a dedicated champion of other bloggers and an all-round good egg.
A collection of short stories featuring the ‘heart specialist’, Parker Pyne.
The forlorn, the anxious and the puzzled have all beaten a path to Parker Pyne’s office where, armed with just an intuitive knowledge of human nature and a small retinue of talented employees, he turns their fantasies into reality – for a modest fee, payable in advance.
Equally adept at putting together the pieces of a marriage or the fragments of a murder mystery, Mr Parker Pyne was possibly the world’s most unconventional private eye – and certainly its most charming.
Parker Pyne Investigates wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Rather than being an out and out sleuth a la Christie’s more famous (to me, at least) creations, Pyne seems to wear a number of hats ranging from agony aunt to private eye. It’s an intriguing mix, and I went into the first story – a woman unhappy with her husband who appears to have been ‘distracted’ by a young woman in his office – not really knowing what to expect. This soon proved to be an entertaining collection, however, and follows Pyne as he seeks to improve the lives of his clients, all of whom are unhappy with some aspect of their lives.
Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne
There are twelve stories in this collection, and the first six follow a similar format as a distressed individual arrives at Pyne’s office in response to his advertisement, seeking advice or a solution, none of them holding out much hope for an improvement in their circumstances. There’s the woman caught in an unhappy marriage, a major facing severe boredom now that he’s returned home from East Africa, and a woman who has the rather nice problem of having too much money and no idea what do to with it. If only we could all be so burdened. The problems and solutions vary, and the way that these tales play out is often entertaining. Pyne doesn’t feature in these tales all that much, and it’s usually his subordinates that carry out his plans given that his own appearance would likely give the game away to his often-unsuspecting client.
I stand in the place of the doctor. The doctor first diagnoses the patient’s disorder, and then he proceeds to recommend a course of treatment.
The remaining six tales feature Pyne more heavily as he comes across unhappy individuals and their problems while travelling. These tales show more of his sleuthing capabilities as he gets involved directly, and the tales move away from unhappy marriages to murder, kidnapping, and theft. He’s a quirky character and shows the usual enhanced powers of observation that you would expect from one of Christie’s characters. His background in compiling government statistics (what statistics isn’t specified) gives him a great deal of insight into human psychology, and he can often deduce the cause of a person’s unhappiness without being told, solving a mystery in the same way. If I have any minor criticism – and it is minor – it’s that I’m not sure that I have much of a grasp on Pyne himself, beyond his cleverness, his instincts, and his physical description. Having read some of Christie’s novels, I feel that she likes to build up a character over time, and that this collection didn’t quite give her the scope to do so.
Despite this, Parker Pyne Investigates is an unusual and entertaining collection that felt more light-hearted that some of Christie’s works, which I suspect is down to these stories featuring scenarios other than murder, and the fact that his clients are often bored with their circumstances, and just need a little je ne sais quoi to spice things up.