(This is a translation of the preface I wrote for this collection of stories.)
Part four of Agatha Christie's collected short stories is comprised by those tales who feature James Parker Pyne as their detective. Like so many of Christie's short stories, this collection mainly consists of a bunch of stories that were commissioned by a magazine. In this case it was the American Cosmopolitan who in the early 30s wanted something by the world's most famous mystery author.
It's fair to say that these tales were written in two batches. The first one, comprising six stories, were published during 1932 (with an exception for the very first story which reportedly was first published in the collection "Parker Pyne investigates"). They have an overarching structure with clients who come to Mr. Parker Pyne's offices because they are dissatisfied with something. Whereupon Pyne in different ways tries to correct their problem.
The second batch, mainly published in 1933, are more reminiscent of the stories that Christie produced with Hercule Poirot as problem solver. In these cases, Mr. Parker Pyne is out travelling through southern Europe and the Middle East, running across problems that he has to solve.
This collection adds the two Parker Pyne stories that weren't originally featured in "Parker Pyne Investigates". One of them is almost certainly a leftover from the second batch of stories above, while the other is a rewrite of a Poirot story.
In "The Case of the Middle-aged Wife" (which is the one story that wasn't published in a magazine and had to wait until the collection) Mr. Parker Pyne and his agency are introduced. His advert "Are you happy? If not, consult Mr Parker Pyne, 17 Richmond Street" attracts a diverse bunch of people and then Mr. Pyne, with assistance from Miss Lemon and miss Ariadne Oliver (both of whom will later appear in Hercule Poirot novels), designs a more or less far-fetched scenario which is supposed to correct their problems. In this introductory story the reader will easily see through Mr. Pyne's plan. It's all quite easy-going, but never particularly exciting.
In "The Case of the Discontented Soldier", the titular military man gets an adventure where he has to save a fair young lady from a from a pickle. Meanwhile, "The Case of the Distressed Lady" is quite reminiscent of the Poirot short story "The Veiled Lady".
In "The Case of the Discontented Husband" Mr. Pyne has to concede defeat when his little plan goes awry. "The Case of the City Clerk" gives us yet another one of those adventure stories that Christie was so fond of. The last of these six similar stories is "The Case of the Rich Woman", wherein Mr. Pyne gets to live out his god complex to the full.
After these six introductory stories, Mr. Pyne seems to take a holiday, going out on a trip through Europe and the Middle East. In "Express to Stamboul" he gets to assist a young lady whose jewels are stolen aboard the train. The modern man might question some of the advice Mr. Pyne gives towards the end of the story.
In the following tale, Mr. Pyne has reached "The Gate of Baghdad" together with a group of tourists. During their bus trip a man is murdered, and Mr. Pyne finds a surprising killer.
Then we go to Persia and "The House of Shiraz", wherein the mystery is thinner than a spider's web. Everything hinges on a single detail, and the astute Christie reader should recognise the misdirection she uses.
"The Pearl of Price" is a bit better. The titular pearl vanishes when Mr. Pyne and his fellow tourists are in Petra, Jordan, and we get a fair surprise towards the end.
The following story is "Death on the Nile", which has nothing in common with the novel of the same name - except that they are set in Egypt. Though only nominally in this case, since all the action takes place on a tourist ship. That is not to the detriment of this tale's quality - it is one of the better ones of this collection. A woman is murdered on board and Mr. Pyne gets to draw some quick conclusions about the culprit.
The final story from "Parker Pyne Investigates" sees Mr. Pyne in Greece, visiting "The Oracle at Delphi". An older woman is travelling with her son, and the latter is kidnapped. Luckily, Mr. Pyne is staying at the same hotel and is able to help her out. A pretty nifty story.
Next is "Problem at Pollensa Bay", which admittedly was published a couple of years after the previous stories, but probably was written at the same time, since Mr. Pyne is still out on his holiday trip - this time on Majorca. The story is on the slighter side - Mr. Pyne gets to help a lady who isn't too impressed with the female company her son is choosing - and also somewhat similar to "The Oracle at Delphi" which might be an explanation why it had to wait a bit for its first publication.
The final story is "The Regatta Mystery". It was originally written with Hercule Poirot as its protagonist, and is more or less a copy of that version. A rather clever story where a jewel goes missing and Mr. Pyne gets to act the armchair detective when he helps the chief suspect in finding the real criminal.
I'm not overly fond of the opening six stories. The whole thing where Mr. Pyne meddles like crazy to affect the lives of other people leaves me cold - so I quite enjoyed it when he got his comeuppance in one of them! It doesn't help that they are quite formulaic as well - though it has to be said that the plots Mr. Pyne dreams up are fairly dissimilar.
The other stories are generally much better (and less original, admittedly). I like that they are set in various places across the world. Most are written with Christie's usual light touch, and some are quite clever indeed ("The Gate of Baghdad", "The Pearl of Price", "Death on the Nile").
There's just one impossible mystery here, "The Regatta Mystery", and that story was already included through its Poirot version, so unfortunately there were no new additions to my project here either.
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