The Oracle at Delphi 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 July 1933. It was later gathered and included as the twelfth and last 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.
In Parker Pyne Investigates, this story is preceded by Death on the Nile.
Parker Pyne travels incognito to Delphi, Greece. He is quite successful at not being recognised, but even here he has to get involved when the son of a wealthy woman is kidnapped.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
A well-off widow, Mrs Peters is travelling through Greece with her intellectual son, Willard and their retinue of a maid and a chauffeur. She is not enjoying the trip, disliking the basic amenities of the hotels they stay in and not entranced by the sights of the ancient ruins of the region. At Delphi there are four other people in the hotel; an arty mother and daughter, a Mr Thompson who has a reserved manner with anyone who tries conversation with him and a balding middle-aged man who falls into friendly easy conversation with her and who thinks he recognises Mr Thompson.
In the afternoon, Mrs. Peters comes back to her hotel after enjoying a relaxing few hours reading a detective novel in a shady spot only to find that a ransom note has been delivered – her son has been kidnapped and the demand is for ten thousand pounds sterling. Further instructions will be sent the next day but she is not to communicate with the hotel management or the police.
Her new friend notices her distracted manner during the evening meal and sends her a note enclosing his advert from The Times and announcing himself as none other than Parker Pyne. They meet in secret so as not to arouse suspicions, should she be being watched and Pyne advises her to just wait for the second set of instructions. On their way back into the hotel, they bump into Mr. Thompson...
The next day the second note is delivered. This note states that if she doesn't have the money on her, the kidnappers will accept instead a valuable diamond necklace that they know she carries on her but it must be delivered by tomorrow. When she shows Pyne the note he concocts a plan to have a friend of his in Athens to make a paste copy of the diamonds and send this to the kidnappers. Mrs Peters agrees and Pyne telephones to his friend while she keeps both the manager and Mr Thompson occupied and prevents them from disturbing him. The jeweller friend arrives from Athens and he makes the paste version and Pyne gives the original back to Mrs Peters while he goes off to pass the copy to the kidnappers and collect her son.
The next day Mrs Peters is delighted when Willard is returned but shocked to see that his liberator is Mr Thompson. The man explains that overhearing the conversation on the night of the first ransom note between Pyne and Mrs Peters, he followed them and listened to everything they said. The kidnapper's intention all along had been to obtain the necklace and what she thought had been the original that was handed back to her the day before was in fact the paste copy. The man calling himself Parker Pyne and his jeweller accomplice are now under lock and key. Mr Thompson explains how he knew something was wrong – he is Parker Pyne, travelling incognito as he promised himself on the Nile, and when he heard his name mentioned, he knew something was up!
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
- 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 482, July 1933 with two other Parker Pyne stories under a sub-heading of "More Arabian Nights of Parker Pyne".
- 1934: Parker Pyne Investigates, William Collins & Sons (London), November 1934
- 1934: Mr Parker Pyne, Detective, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1934
- 1968: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, vol. 51 no. 3, whole no. 292, Mar 1968.