The Gate of Baghdad is a Parker Pyne short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.S. in Cosmopolitan in April 1933. In the U.K. it was first published in Nash's Pall Mall Magazine in June 1933. It was later gathered and included as the eighth story in the collection Parker Pyne Investigates, published in 1934 in the U.K. In the U.S., the collection also came out in 1934 under the title Mr Parker Pyne, Detective.
Parker Pyne is on a bus from Damascus to Baghdad when one of the passengers is found murdered.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Parker Pyne is on a vacation in the Middle East and is soon to set off on the four-hundred mile journey across the Syrian Desert from Damascus to Baghdad by a Pullman motor coach that will traverse the wastes in some thirty-six hours instead of the months that the trip used to take. There are various other people sharing the journey including the young attractive Netta Pryce and her austere aunt; three Royal Air Force officers called O'Rourke, Loftus and Williamson; A Mr Loftus of the Baghdad public works department; An old Etonian called Captain Smethurst; General Poli, an Italian; and an Armenian mother and her son.
The day before the journey, Pyne passes the time talking to General Poli about items in the newspaper, mainly the search for a crooked financier called Samuel Long who is on the run and is rumoured to be in South America. Pyne also goes to the cinema and then to a somewhat seedy nightclub where he finds a slightly drunken Captain Smethurst who seems depressed but is vague as to the reason why, saying that he doesn't, "like to go back on a pal". Pyne introduces his profession, glibly announcing that he is a sort of "confidence trickster", prompting a strange reaction from the Captain who says, "What – you too?"
The journey starts the next day with the driver worried about the possibility of them getting stuck in the desert mud after their stop at Ar Rutba as there have been heavy rains in the area. Sure enough, the vehicle does become bogged down as it drives through the night and the men step out to assist in freeing it. As they work they realise that Smethurst is not assisting and when O'Rourke investigates he finds the Captain is dead in his seat. Loftus, a doctor in the RAF, suggests he may have hit his head on the roof the vehicle as it went over one of the heavy bumps on the ground and when he examines him declares that he cannot find an obvious wound. The only other possibility is that he was hit with something in the nature of a sandbag whilst the other passengers were asleep. As they discuss the reason why someone would do such a thing, Williamson remembers overhearing a conversation that Smethurst had with an unknown third party in Damascus where he said that he would keep quiet until they arrived in Baghdad but not a moment longer. Pyne joins in with his story of his own conversation with the dead man in the nightclub and Loftus also recalls Smethurst talking to Hensley about "a leakage" in his department. Recalling that Hensley said he always carried spare socks with him, Pyne suggests Loftus fetches these. Sure enough, one is found to contain wet sand. Pyne now knows the murderer.
He examines the body more closely and loosening the collar finds a small stab wound made by something in the nature of a stiletto. Pyne suggests that within their party is Samuel Long, the absconding financier, who is travelling in disguise and Smethurst knew of this which would explain his unusual reaction to Pyne's statement that his job is a confidence trickster. Pyne declares Loftus is Mr. Long. Within his doctor's kit he would have something which could have caused Smethurst's death and he was also quick to pinpoint the cause of death as being a bump on the head, prompted by an earlier conversation reminiscing about the former rigours of the journey. The final proof is that he tried to pass suspicion onto Hensley and Pyne had already examined Hensley's socks before he asked "Loftus" to and then they were free of sand.
Samuel Long lights a cigarette and languidly confesses. He met the real Loftus in Egypt and bought his identity for twenty thousand pounds. Smethurst was his fag at Eton and recognised him. He didn't give him away instantly as he had a case of hero worship for the man when he was younger.
Long suddenly collapses and Pyne theorises that the cigarette contained prussic acid. He has escaped justice.
- Parker Pyne
- Netta Pryce
- Miss Pryce
- Flight Lieutenant O'Rourke
- Flight Lieutenant Williamson
- Squadron Leader Loftus
- Captain Smethurst
- Samuel Long
- General Poli
- Mr Pentemian
- Madame Pentemian
- Oriental Hotel
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
A radio dramatisation was created for BBC Radio 4 and broadcast on 21 January 2002. The dramatisation was written by Mike Stott. Richard Griffiths played the part of Parker Pyne and Patricia Routledge that of Miss Pryce.
- 1933 Cosmopolitan, issue 562, April 1933 with four other Parker Pyne stories under a sub-heading "Have You Got Everything You Want? If Not Consult Mr. Parker Pyne". Illustrated by Marshall Frantz.
- 1933 Nash's Pall Mall Magazine, issue 481, June 1933 with two other Parker Pyne stories under a sub-heading of "The Arabian Nights of Parker Pyne". Under the title "At the Gate of Baghdad". Marshall Frantz's illustrations from Cosmopolitan were re-used.
- 1934, Parker Pyne Investigates, William Collins & Sons (London), November 1934
- 1934, Mr Parker Pyne, Detective, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1934