Bobby Roberts, a middle-aged man stuck in a mid-life rut, is in search of "ten minutes of glorious living". He sees an ad in The Times which reads: "Are you happy? If not, see Parker Pyne." He can afford £199. For this fee, Parker Pyne sends him to collect a harmless package from a scientist in Milan, with instructions to see the sights, enjoy himself and try every flavour of the famous Italian ice cream. Before long, he finds himself involved in several murders and narrow escapes.
Comparison with original story
The dramatisation follows the basic premise of the original story in that an "ordinary" person is sent to courier a package. Other than that, significant changes have been made. The setting has been modernised. Roberts goes to Milan and not Geneva, the outbound journey is made by air and the package is not plans of a weapon but a sample of a masking agent for sports performance enhancing drugs. Roberts has to collect a package from Milan, as opposed to delivering a package to Geneva as in the original story. From various events in the plot, it is obviously set in the era of mobile phones.
Plot of the adaptation
At a wrestling match, Parker Pyne meets a biochemist friend, Roddy, who tells him his lab had been expecting a sample of a chemical P124. This was a masking agent developed to prevent lab tests from picking up the use of performance enhancing drugs. With a sample, Roddy's lab can develop a means to detect the masking agent itself, thus proving fraud on the part of the athlete. However the courier, one Andrea di Luca, had been found hanged on Blackfriars Bridge. Roddy suspects this is the work of the Mafia, which is involved in sports doping, wanting to prevent labs from developing countermeasures. There is another sample of P124 in Milan waiting to be collected, but Roddy cannot send one of his own men as he thinks there is a mole in his lab.
Parker Pyne returns to his office where Marcia, his assistance, tells him one Bobby Roberts is waiting for him. Roberts, like in the original story, is a bored office worker, getting on in life but just wants "ten minutes of living gloriously". He can pay £200. It is enough. Parker Pyne sends him off to Milan, with instructions to see the sights, enjoy his time, try two of each flavour of famous Italian ice cream.
At Milan, Bobby Roberts calls Dr Georgio di Luca, the father of Andrea and the biochemist who will supply the sample. He is told to go to a certain address to pick up the package. After a hair-raising taxi ride through the Milan streets, he arrives but a man at the address tells him di Luca is not in. Then suddenly, from behind, there is a commotion. Dr di Luca turns up and holds the man up with a gun. He tells Robert to search the man and remove his gun. Di Luca promptly shoots the man dead and he leads Roberts through the back of the house and escape in a car.
Dr di Luca hands Roberts the package. He tells Roberts that the Mafia killed his son so he kills their operatives whenever he encounters them. Roberts is shaken so di Luca takes him for some coffee and ice cream but at the cafe, a man comes in and shoots di Luca dead. In a panic, Roberts calls Parker Pyne yelling that there is blood on his ice cream.
Parker Pyne sends Maggie Sayers (now working under the name of Maria di Maggio) to Milan with instructions to extricate Roberts from his hotel room and bring him back. Maria succeeds in getting Roberts to the airport but there they spot some mobsters who seem to be on the look out for someone. Roberts panics but Maria grabs him and kisses him passionately. She tells him to relax. The mobsters are looking for a man travelling alone and in a hurry. They are a couple walking away at a leisurely pace.
Maria brings Roberts on board a train for the return journey instead. Roberts resists Maria's further advances so she decides to go to bed. In the middle of the night, Roberts wakes Maria. Someone is trying to break into their compartment! Roberts then remembers that he has a gun taken from the hitman at di Luca's place. Maria takes it and tells him to lie in his bunk and pretend to be asleep. The hitman breaks in, Maria surprises him and chases him into the corrider. She returns to say she has killed him, thrown him off the train with the gun.
Back in London, Parker Pyne hands Roddy the package plus a hefty bill. It has been an expensive operation he says. He had to hire quite a team and they all had expenses. Moreover, Parker Pyne has learnt that Andrea had not been carring P124 but a package of cocaine. He had been moonlighting as a drug smuggler and had been murdered because the drug gangs did not like him working on his own account. Dr di Luca is saddened to learn that his son was a drug smuggler but also relieved to know that the mob is not after him on account of his biochemistry work.
With Marcia and Maria, Parker Pyne sums up what has been a successful team effort. It turns out that they had simply walked up to the lab and collected the package. The killing of the hitman at di Luca's place, the subsequent killing of di Luca at the cafe and the assassin on the train--these had all been staged by a team. Roberts did not suspect a thing and had his moment of glorious living.
- Richard Griffiths as Parker Pyne
- Rebecca Front as Marcia
- Chris Langham as Bobby Roberts
- Simon Treves as Roddy
- Rupert Degas as various Italians e.g. Georgio di Luca
- Maggie Sayers - has a major role but is not credited
- Laura - no speaking part
- Andrea di Luca - mentioned but no speaking part
An Above the Title Production for BBC Radio 4, first broadcast 17 February 2003 and released on Audio CD and Audible 2010
- Roberts tells Parker Pyne he can afford to pay £200. The title of the radio play is "The £199 Adventure". Presumably Roberts had a £1 discount.