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Agatha Christie’s Sleuths: Parker Pyne

This week, Brook and Sarah discuss Agatha Christie’s character Parker Pyne. Is he a detective? Are his methods reasonable if they bring happiness?

Pyne appeared in 14 short stories in the 1930s, though many of the stories had different names when they appeared in US and the UK publications.


Parker Pyne Investigates (1934)

The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories (1939)

Death on the Nile (1937)

And Then There Were None (1939)

Murder on the Orient Express (1934)

Parker Pyne stories:

US titleUS publication/ yearUK titleUK publication/ yearCollection title
“The Case of the Discontented Soldier”Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 554, August 1932“Adventure – By Request: The Case of the Discontented Soldier”Woman’s Pictorial (UK), Issue 614, 15th October 1932.“The Case of the Discontented Soldier”
“The Case of the Distressed Lady”Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 554, August 1932“Faked! The Case of the Distressed Lady”Woman’s Pictorial (UK), Issue 615, 22nd October 1932“The Case of the Distressed Lady”
“The Case of the City Clerk”Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 554, August 1932“The £10 Adventure”The Strand Magazine (UK), Issue 503, November 1932“The Case of the City Clerk”
“The Case of the Discontented Husband”Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 554, August 1932“His Lady’s Affair: The Case of the Discontented Husband”Woman’s Pictorial (UK), Issue 616, 29th October 1932“The Case of the Discontented Husband”
“The Case of the Rich Woman”Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 554, August 1932  “The Case of the Rich Woman”
  “The Woman Concerned”Woman’s Pictorial (UK), Issue 613, 8th October 1932“The Case of the Middle-aged Wife”
“Have You Got Everything You Want?”Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 562, April 1933“On the Orient Express”Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine (UK), Issue 481, June 1933“Have You Got Everything You Want?”
“The House at Shiraz”Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 562, April 1933“In the House at Shiraz”Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine (UK), Issue 481, June 1933“The House at Shiraz”
“Death on the Nile”Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 562, April 1933 “Death on the Nile”
“The Oracle at Delphi”Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 562, April 1933 “The Oracle at Delphi”
“The Gate of Baghdad”Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 562, April 1933“At the Gate of Baghdad”Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine (UK), Issue 481, June 1933“The Gate of Baghdad”
“Once a Thief”Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 1957“The Pearl”Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine (UK), Issue 482, July 1933“The Pearl of Price”
 “Problem at Pollensa Bay”The Strand Magazine (UK), Issue 539, November 1935“Problem at Pollensa Bay”
“Poirot and the Regatta Mystery”The Hartford Courant newspaper (USA), 3rd May 1936.“Poirot and the Regatta Mystery”The Strand Magazine (UK), Issue 546, June 1936“The Regatta Mystery” (Note, the original short story features Poirot but the version in The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories features Parker Pyne.

Source https://www.collectingchristie.com/post/parker-pyne

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This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook.
BrookHi Sarah. Are you ready to talk about some of Agatha Christie’s lesser-known sleuths today?
SarahAbsolutely! So, as you referred to we are going to talk today a little bit about Parker Pyne. So our listeners will remember from the first season, we have talked about Agatha Christie and her life and her incredible contribution to the mystery space. But we really haven’t spent any time talking about any of her stories or her sleuths and so we thought we would start to address that. And today, we’re going to talk about Parker Pyne.
SarahSo J. Parker Pyne appears in 14 short stories, all of which were published in the 1930s. Twelve were released in late 1934 in a collection titled Parker Pyne Investigates that was the UK version and Parker Pyne, Detective is the US version. And these collections were published after the stories first appeared in magazines or newspapers in 1932 and 1933. The remaining two short stories were published in the collection The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories in 1939. Somewhat confusingly Pyne replaces Poirot as the sleuth in the story titled “The Regatta Mystery,” with the original Poirot version appearing in 1935.
SarahThe names of several stories also changed between the magazine and anthology versions or between publication in the US or the UK. So, I think I will try to put together a table to include in the show notes and on our website to list the alternate names and the original publication dates. Now given when they were published, I’m sure you’re not surprised when I say that the character descriptions and characterizations are often racist, sexist, and include negative descriptions of weight and appearance.
SarahSo, Parker Pyne—and there’s a bit of confusion about whether his first initial is J or C but I’ll just mostly refer to him as Parker Pyne—spent 35 years working as a government statistician before opening his practice to cure unhappiness, and often includes a statistic or reference to statistics related to the story. While he is billed as a detective or an investigator, Pyne insists several times that he is not a detective. Instead, he is interested in matters of the heart. This is especially true of his stories that are set in London. But in several of his other stories that are set abroad, he often performs what we would consider more traditional detective work, uncovering a theft or solving a murder.
SarahThough Pyne and Poirot never meet, they do travel to several of the same destinations and interact with the same people. For example, Pyne has a story titled “A Death on the Nile” which is completely different from Poirot’s novel Death on the Nile. Miss Lemon and Ariadne Oliver, two characters that Poirot readers may be familiar with, appear in Parker Pyne stories as his employees. And I think that those were actually published before the Poirot stories. Pyne also has other recurring characters to help him. Claude Latrell, who is described as a handsome lounge lizard, and Madeline de Sara, who is described as a vamp. Pyne uses both in disguise to help those seeking his services come to some realization about love or happiness, though I have to say he doesn’t always offer the best advice. In one instance, he tells a client to be less kind to his wife so that she will love him more because women want to be lied to. And he often engages in some sort of deception and the occasional kidnapping.
SarahHe attracts clients through a personal ad that reads “Are you happy? If not consult Mr. Parker Pyne, 17 Richmond Street.” And the ad works, bringing him clients in the London stories and is often referenced in the stories when Parker Pyne is abroad. He refers to his theory that unhappiness has five sources, each of which can be solved, but I didn’t notice any explanation of what those sources are. But I would I think if I reread the stories really carefully, each time he references that I think maybe the story is an example of a different source of unhappiness.
BrookSarah, you mentioned that both Poirot and Parker Pyne have their own Death on the Nile, so that was super interesting to me too.
SarahYeah, so in the so Parker Pyne replaces Poirot in “The Regatta Mystery.” So I read the original. Poirot version and I read the Parker Pyne version and they are very very similar. And so I don’t know what the rationale for that switch was. I do think it’s interesting that she could just make that switch. And I think that’s the story where um, Parker Pyne or Poirot really only appears in the last bit of the story. And so I guess that’s why it was really easy to make that switch because it wasn’t really integral to the story. And yeah I don’t know it’s really interesting. I don’t know of any other example where where that happens. And then for Death on the Nile. Yeah so they they both have a story titled Death on the Nile um, but they’re they’re very different um in terms of the solution and the story and you know the Poirot one is the novel and the Parker Pyne is a short story. But they both of those characters travel to a lot of the same destinations. So yeah I don’t know why. Given given all of the different variations in the names of the Parker Pyne stories. Um that you know one story published in UK had a different title when it was published in the US or and that happened multiple times. Parker Pyne’s “Death on the Nile” story was published before the Poirot novel and maybe she just thought it was such a great title that she had to use it again.
BrookNice, nice. And as you say they traveled to a lot of the same places and these were the places that she and Max Mallowan were traveling at this time in their life. So they’re all crossing paths. I think that’s lovely.
SarahYeah I think that’s a great point that you know their travels kind of parallel some of the experiences that that she was having. So, Brook, have you read any of the Parker Pyne stories?
BrookI hadn’t until this week. I read um “The Case of the Middle Aged Wife” to ah to you know to get a taste of Parker Pyne this week. But it was not a sleuth I was familiar with of Christie’s at all. And um, it was a lot of fun. It was so different than any of her other work that I’d read.
SarahYeah, and and I would say I mean you’re right. His stories are are completely different from um, a lot of what we typically associate with Agatha Christie. And his stories are also different depending on where they take place. So, the ones that are in London really are like I mentioned about you know, helping someone who’s either dissatisfied in their in their life or um, you know having some some romantic relationship troubles. Whereas the ones where he’s abroad, they would be more traditional ah kind of mysteries. You know there’s ah a several jewelry thefts a couple of murders. Um, yeah, so he’s a really interesting character.
BrookYes, after I read um “The Case of the Middle Aged Wife” it made me wonder if these were all non-violent mysteries because there’s there’s not even a crime in that one. It’s the situation where um, you know she’s unhappy in her marriage and he helps her solve this problem through some clandestine means, I will say. So, there is that kind of this espionage feel to the story but definitely not a crime or a a murder to solve so it made me wonder. So I did some poking around and realized, no he does solve some of the more traditional mysteries as well. But um, this was such a fun way to have a quote unquote mystery that was more in a relationship setting and I found it really interesting because in some of Christie’s um more well-known sleuths, Marple, Poirot you don’t get much interpersonal relationships of the sleuths at all. So that was that was really cool.
SarahLove and relationships as a theme might reflect Christie’s personal life. So you know Pyne first appears shortly after she married Max Mallowan. Um, and you know listeners will remember that relationship that was her second marriage and it was much happier than her first one. And her romance novels that she released under the pen name Mary Westmacott, the first of those were also released in the 1930s. At the same time you know Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, those came out in the latter half of the decade, so she may have just been exploring different types of writing as well.
BrookAnd a great um counterpoint character to Poirot because we’ve got the cerebral. You know, very black and white non-emotional and then Parker Pyne he says it’s you know he solves things with his heart. It’s matters of the heart. So um, maybe as an author, a really nice fresh thing to do when she spent so much time in the head of Poirot.
SarahYeah, that’s a, that’s a great point. Um, and I saw some suggestion that she may have modeled Parker Pyne after Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft. Because you know Mycroft was also a government worker and he says he worked in in government statistics. But um, you know there’s some suggestion that perhaps he was in you know, intelligent services which I think is the the um the field that that Mycroft works in. And so you know perhaps he was created as an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle, whom she was friends with and and and a fan of.
BrookYeah, so Poirot is like her Sherlock and um Parker Pyne is like her Mycroft in a way. Um I don’t want to say that in too large of a context but you know just ah, figuratively speaking.
SarahYeah, yeah. He didn’t do a lot of the legwork. He had accomplices or or associates who he would send out to you know, take on these personas and create these situations that his clients would find the satisfaction that they were that they were looking for. And so I kind of you know imagine him just sitting behind a desk ah coming up with these schemes to um, ah quite frankly, manipulate people um into ah you know finding some truth or or some happiness.
BrookYeah, he’s like Charlie from Charlie’s Angels.
SarahYes! The first six of the stories I think are the ones that are set in London and then it’s almost like he’s kind of tired of that work and decides to go on holiday and the ones when he is abroad he kind of expresses some frustration when people recognize him as Parker Pyne. So he clearly has um you know developed a bit of a reputation for the work that he does. But you know he wants to be on holiday and and in one case, he sees a woman who he can tell that there is something troubling her and he absolutely does not want to get involved and so he goes and changes his name in the hotel register. He had signed in as C. Parker Pyne but he changes it to Christopher Pyne in an attempt to avoid having to get involved in this woman’s um, troubles. Which I think is really funny and ultimately obviously he does get involved but he just wants to be on holiday.
BrookI love that I think that it also reflects because we know that Agatha Christie was very um, introverted and she didn’t like the media she didn’t want to be recognized when she was out she didn’t do a lot of public appearances. So um I think she could probably write that in for Parker Pyne really well.
SarahYeah, yeah. So in other stories his first initial appears as J. And there was one place where it referred to him not not in one of the um original stories but like in some article that I read suggested that his name was James but I I don’t know um I don’t know if that’s true I don’t I don’t know if we actually see that his name is James or if it’s we see on his luggage that he’s J. Parker Pyne um and I think there’s another reference to him being J Parker Pyne um so I don’t know why he would have signed in at that hotel as C. Parker Pyne maybe a half-hearted attempt at at remaining anonymous.
BrookI really enjoy that she has these um crossover characters in this series. That appear in. Did you say that they also appear in Marple and Poirot stories?
SarahSo Ariadne Oliver and Miss Lemon are in Poirot stories. I don’t know if they’re in Marple as well. But Ariadne Oliver is definitely in a few Poirot stories. I don’t know how many. And Miss Lemon is maybe she’s his secretary. Um, so and I think her appearance in Christie’s work is first in Parker Pyne. So Parker Pyne that’s where those characters are introduced. But yeah I think I think it’s really neat. Um, and it suggests that she kind of had this vision for this Christieverse. Um, even though you know I don’t I don’t think Poirot and Parker Pyne ever meet um and Marple and and Poirot I don’t think ever meet either. And it’s fun for us to imagine what that might have been like.
BrookYeah, I always enjoy that like when two television shows have characters appear on one another because it just it makes the whole thing seem real. Like you said like this universe that exists and I think that it’s common that we think that this is something that someone came up with in contemporary times. But no, this has been happening for for a long time and and something that the queen of crime did herself. So I just I really like that and to um because these are short stories I imagine that they were um, kind of. Could be wrong but side projects maybe for Agatha Christie as she’s working on something else and so just the fun that she’s having in them to like well I’m going to drop this character in this story. That’s also appeared over here I mean I think that that’s um, that’s just shows that she’s having a lot of fun with her work.
SarahUm, so there have only been two TV adaptations of Parker Pyne stories and those were both in the early 1980s as part of a series called the Agatha Christie hour. Two episodes of that um program featured Parker Pyne so I do think there’s some um opportunity for you know someone to ah um, adapt him for screen. Although, maybe because of the kind of shift in terms of the focus of his work that might make it a bit more challenging to um to adapt because it really I think the um sense you have of Parker Pyne really depends on which stories of his you’ve read.
BrookTrue and some of the as you mentioned in the introduction some of the means that he uses um, would seem maybe distasteful in this day and age. Do you think, Sarah that he is an antihero?
SarahOh. That’s a good question. I mean I think he genuinely does want to help his clients but he you know makes them happy often at the expense of someone else maybe becoming unhappy. And I think I hope I’m not making this up, but I think in one story he says ah because when he’s kind of challenged on that he’s like “well you’re my client and I’m making you happy.”
SarahBut I don’t know if I’ve made that up, Brook.
BrookWell, I do know in the in the story that I read that like you said he often hires someone to kind of do the legwork for him and the gentleman that he hires to be um, a big player in the ruse that gets this man and woman back together, he’s terribly unhappy. He doesn’t like what he’s doing because he’s playing with this woman’s emotions. And he says that to Parker Pyne. He doesn’t really know if he wants to continue to do these kind of things and and you know Pyne just kind of tells him to buck up. That’s what they’re doing. They’re making their client happy and that’s what it takes. So, I think that you’re um, if it didn’t happen specifically like that, that’s definitely the feel you get and that’s what made me think you know he’s kind of an antihero. His heart is in the right place he’s doing what he’s doing for the greater good, you could say. But he does utilize some um maybe unscrupulous means sometimes.
SarahAbsolutely! There’s one story where he drugs his client has her put into an institution and essentially she’s gaslit into thinking that she is a poor farm wife.
BrookOh my goodness and it’s for your own good.
SarahExactly exactly this is how she finds happiness. Um, and so like I don’t know that’s a bit problematic.
BrookDefinitely yeah.
SarahRight? I don’t think that would fly today but overall I I enjoyed the stories.
SarahCool. Brook think this was such so much fun to talk about Parker Pyne and I really enjoyed learning about him this week
BrookYes, thanks! Sarah thanks for all your great research and thank you for joining us today on Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.