Parker Pyne is a detective who appears in three Agatha Christie books: Parker Pyne Investigates, Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories and The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories. His quote and sales pitch is always "Are you happy? If not consult Mr Parker Pyne, 17 Richmond Street." Most don't notice this ad, some chuckle, and read on. And just a few make their way to Mr Parker Pyne's modest office and meet the world's most unusual, baffling and intriguing detective.
Christie presents Parker Pyne as having a solid if bland physical presence, one which is characteristically English and somehow vaguely comforting to those around him, though they themselves could not articulate exactly how or why. The character is first described in "The Case of the Middle-aged Wife" as follows:
- "Somehow or other, the mere sight of Mr. Parker Pyne brought a feeling of reassurance. He was large but not to say fat; he had a bald head of noble proportions, strong glasses, and little twinkling eyes."
Name and family
In Parker Pyne Investigates, Christie refers to the character as "Mr Parker Pyne" but also frequently as "Mr Pyne", suggesting that his surname was Pyne and Parker was a middle name, unlike "Conan Doyle" which is a compound surname. A friend, Mr Bonnington (The Case of the City Clerk) called him "Parker".
However Parker Pyne might have a separate first name. This is only ever alluded to once. In Have You Got Everything You Want?, Parker Pyne had a case labelled "J. Parker Pyne". What J. stood for is never given.
In his newspaper advertisements, however, he only ever uses his middle name (rather than his first) for all business purposes.
Confusion that his first name possibly may be "Christopher" stems from a later story, "Problem at Pollensa Bay" (1935). Here he uses the "Christopher" as a ruse to obfuscate his identity from fellow British travelers so that he would not be disturbed while on holiday. After multiple failed attempts to enjoy a peaceful vacation unfettered by work, Pyne settles in comfortably at Majorca but, almost immediately, is dismayed to encounter another distressed Englishwoman who may recognize his celebrated name from the newspapers. He had already signed in as "C. Parker Pyne" in the hotel register but, hoping to conceal his profession from this woman, he returns to the book and scribbles over the entry to change it to "Christopher" instead.
In The House at Shiraz, Parker Pyne tries to answer the questions posed to him by Persian immigration officials without understanding what was being said to him. After he gave his replies, he asked Herr Schlagal, his pilot, what he had actually said. According to Schlagal, he had said: "That your father’s Christian name is Tourist, that your profession is Charles, that the maiden name of your mother is Baghdad, and that you have come from Harriet." This suggests that his father's first name is Charles and that his mother's maiden name is Harriet.
Parker Pyne is a retired government employee turned philanthropist who considers himself to be a "detective of the heart." The exact nature of his former job and his former position in the British government was never stated but he claimed to have been involved in the gathering of statistics. This leads to the theory that his job was the same as Mycroft Holmes, a human super computer, specializing in omniscience.
This theory carries some weight as the resemblance between Parker Pyne and Mycroft Holmes is hard to deny. Both are heavy set fellows. Both appear to possess superior skills to that of their counterparts (Sherlock Holmes/Hercule Poirot) but they are both nonetheless incapable of performing similar detective work since they are both unwilling to put in the physical effort necessary to bring cases to their conclusions.
While he does occasionally exert himself in the stories where he is on vacation, he on the whole remains a sedentary problem-solver, providing solutions based on seemingly little evidence and trusting his agents to handle any of the practical details. He himself rarely goes to see his clients after their first meeting, although he gets reports on their progress from his hench-people. In fact, Pyne's own lack of drive and faith in his minions' skills can be a severe handicap despite his deductive talents, as it resulted in the failure of his efforts in "The Case of the Discontented Husband", Pyne's only recorded failure.
Parker Pyne is also an uncommon type of detective, who doesn't usually investigate murders or similar crimes, but rather prefers to help his clients to re-encounter happiness. For such, he applies the knowledge he has acquired in 35 years of work in a statistics office, from which he retired, establishing later on his own on 17 Richmond Street, London.
He has a theory that there are five main types of unhappiness and all are logically solvable. His methods are unorthodox and he often employs deception and constructs elaborate charades to fool the suspects and cure unhappiness successfully.
Though he is, apparently, limited to a specific type of investigation, Pyne also has uncommon capabilities for criminal investigation. He works alongside his neurotic assistant Miss Felicity Lemon, novelist Ariadne Oliver, handsome lounge lizard Claude Luttrell and disguise artist Madeleine de Sara. Whatever the case is, he always has the aid of his team (outnumbered, but as effective as they are extravagant).
Short stories featuring Parker Pyne
Agatha Christie published a total of 14 short stories featuring Parker Pyne. Of these, the first dozen initially appeared in various US/UK magazines and were later collected into the 1934 anthology Parker Pyne Investigates. The remaining two tales were originally created as vehicles for her most famous sleuth, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, but Christie reworked these into Pyne cases before their inclusion in the 1939 short story collection The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories.
Within his work, Pyne himself always disclaimed the role of hard-core detective, and his literary domain was usually relegated to light-hearted short stories rather than murder mysteries (excepting two instances where he was inadvertently involved). Christie never featured this character in a full-length novel and, despite her lengthy career, did not return to her Pyne creation after this initial 1930s run.
- 1932 - The Case of the Discontented Soldier - Parker Pyne becomes involved in secret maps to buried treasure when helping a major newly returned from abroad.
- 1932 - The Case of the Middle-aged Wife - Pyne helps to save a failing marriage.
- 1932 - The Case of the Distressed Lady - Pyne shows his slippery side when helping an apparently distressed woman.
- 1932 - The Case of the Discontented Husband - Pyne once again becomes embroiled in resolving marital woes.
- 1932 - The Case of the City Clerk - Pyne helps a mild-mannered city clerk find excitement.
- 1932 - The Case of the Rich Woman - Pyne helps a bored, wealthy widow to spend her money, in his own unconventional way.
- 1933 - Have You Got Everything You Want? - Pyne helps an American woman unravel the secret goings-on aboard a train from Paris.
- 1933 - The Gate of Baghdad - A fellow traveler is murdered en route and Pyne is forced to investigate.
- 1933 - The House at Shiraz - Pyne investigates the mystery surrounding an English expatriate living as a recluse in Persia.
- 1933 - The Pearl of Price - Traveling in Jordan, Pyne helps to recover the titular pearl.
- 1933 - Death on the Nile - Pyne is hired by a woman who believes her husband may be poisoning her.
- 1933 - The Oracle at Delphi - Pyne aids in the rescue of a kidnapped child.
- 1935 - Problem at Pollensa Bay - concerns a mother's dislike for her son's fiancée, a dilemma solved by fellow vacationer Pyne.
- 1936 - The Regatta Mystery - The title story sees Pyne catch a diamond thief during regatta festivities at Dartmouth harbor.
Parker Pyne in other media
The Agatha Christie Hour (1982), a series of ten hour-long dramas produced for Thames TV, London, featured two episodes based on Parker Pyne stories: The Case of the Middle-aged Wife and The Case of the Discontented Soldier, both directed by Michael Simpson. Veteran character actor Maurice Denham OBE played the role of Parker Pyne.
Pyne's secretary, Miss Lemon, is apparently the same woman who was secretary to Hercule Poirot. Whether she came into Pyne's employ during one of Poirot’s numerous retirements or before she entered his employ is unknown, though she is described as "a young woman" in Parker Pyne's story The Discontented Soldier, but as having grizzled hair in the Poirot novel Hickory Dickory Dock, suggesting that she worked for Pyne before working for Poirot. This, along with the appearance of Ariadne Oliver, suggests that Pyne and Poirot occupy the same fictional universe, similarly to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Wold Newton family, even though they have never actually met.