This month on the Agatha Christie Challenge the theme was love with the suggested title being this collection of linked short stories.
It’s an earlier Christie than “The Hollow” I read last month and all of the fourteen stories feature Parker Pyne, a man who promises happiness. This is the only work wholly dedicated to this character, he made appearances in other short stories but never made it into the novel form. (In the closing story “The Regatta Mystery” he was replaced by Poirot in an American collection).
Pyne is not an especially well-drawn character, we have little idea why he does what he does. In an advert which appears to feature regularly in The Times he offers consultations on unhappiness and in this collection the majority of his clients show up because of this ad. He brings happiness by his unique approach to problem-solving involving a small team of people who work for him and through his ability to see the true root of a problem, often through his fondness for statistics. The most successful stories keep things simple, there is a tendency in some of the later tales to overload with characters to get Christie’s celebrated whodunnit format which doesn’t work so well in the short-story framework where they become names more than characters and I found myself turning back to see who was who.
In around half of the stories Pyne is office-bound but mid-way through begins a Mediterranean/Middle East tour which gives more exotic locations and a more diverse cast for him to bring happiness to. I think he loses his identity and individuality somewhat in these stories, which is what might have led to his replacement by Poirot in a later version of one of them. It seems that the format of the office-based Pyne sorting out the problems from behind his desk was deemed not gutsy enough to last the whole book.
In a Foreword the author claims her own favourites (this seems an unusual move) “The Case Of The Discontented Husband” and “The Case Of The Rich Woman”, this last one based on a remark made to Christie from a woman who did not know what to do with all of her money!
This is an enjoyable set of stories, very much of its time, with quite a few missing jewels and just the odd murder. I didn’t like it as much as last month’s choice. I felt the stories tended to blend one into another probably because Christie struggled to establish much in the way of characters within the short fiction format. I don’t think I would have ever discovered Parker Pyne if not for this challenge so it was good to meet up with him in these stories.
Next month the book choice needs to involve a society figure. For more information on the challenge and details of a Facebook/Instagram Book Club on this months choice visit agathachristie.com.
Parker Pyne Investigates was first published in 1936. I read a Harper Collins Kindle edition.