Book name: Parker Pyne Investigates
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Collins Mystery
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Genre: Murder mystery
Publication Date: 1934
Think you know Agatha Christie? Me, too. But this...A dozen short stories featuring not so much a sleuth as a man in command of the statistics of the human heart.
'Are you happy? If not, consult Mr Parker Pyne'.
It's a pretty confident sales pitch, and it is the wording of his advert in the personal column of the newspaper.
As the stories progress, the reader sees that this is no misplaced claim or inaccurate sales puff. Parker Pyne actually does leave people happier than before they visited him for advice.
Parker Pyne is based in London. He used to be a civil servant, but is now in private practice.
In one story he reminds the reader that he is not a detective but, if anything, a heart specialist.
That phrase deserves inverted commas because he is, of course, not a doctor. But Parker Pyne knows all about people's hearts, what makes them unhappy and far more importantly how to make them happy.
Pyne's secret lies in the imaginative solutions he provides as well as his ability to read people and understand what it is they want from life.
There were times when I had to remind myself that Parker Pyne Investigates was Agatha Christie. Her style is distinctive, of course, but the premise was so different to, say, Tommy and Tuppence or Hercule Poirot.
In many of the dozen short stories a crime was involved. In others, there was no crime but a thorny puzzle to solve instead. There was always a twist. A number of plots and characters bore a superficial resemblance to other Christie books or stories.
One story is even called 'Death on the Nile'. However, the whole concept felt very different. In a good way, because I really enjoyed reading them.
There is always a positive sense of justice done when a detective in fiction solves a crime, just as there is in real life, but with Parker Pyne Investigates there was something else. There was a sense in almost every story of people's lives being better after Parker Pyne's intervention.
A frumpy middle-aged wife is spruced up a bit and given the means to make her husband jealous so that he stops running round after a much younger woman. A bored city clerk is given some excitement to remember fondly after an unexpected business trip when he helps a grand duchess fight off a jewel thief, for instance.
There are occasional failures, which Parker Pyne is careful to learn from and which remind us that, in reality, no one succeeds one hundred percent of the time. This seemed more realistic than a fictional detective, who always tracks down the culprit.
Many of the stories were located in England, some involved trips to Europe and the second half of the book featured a number of stories set in the Middle East.
Agatha Christie spent much time there helping her husband who was an archaeologist. I've been to many of the places that feature: Isfahan, Shiraz, the Nile tourist spots and Petra in Jordan, so I really loved this aspect of the book.
Parker Pyne was an incredibly likeable person. Observant of physical matters and knowledgeable about more than just statistics, he solves one mystery by knowing that two blue-eyed people cannot have a brown-eyed daughter.
He is emotionally intelligent and perceptive in a way that reminded me of Miss Marple. It was delightful to see a very different sort of hero emerge from this volume of short stories.
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