The newspaper advertisement reads:
ARE YOU HAPPY? IF NOT, CONSULT ME.
PARKER PYNE. 17 Richmond Street.
We follow twelve people, unhappy in one way or another, as they consult with Mr. J. Parker Pyne, former government statistician, who believes that unhappiness can be classified into five main groups and that once he has diagnosed the problem and prescribed a course of treatment the cure is practically guaranteed.
The stories presented are:
1. The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife
2. The Case of the Discontented Soldier
3. The Case of the Distressed Lady
4. The Case of the Discontented Husband
5. The Case of the City Clerk
6. The Case of the Rich Woman or Can’t Buy Me Love
7. Have You Got Everything You Want? or Robbery on the Orient Express
8. The Gate of Baghdad
9. The House at Shiraz
10. The Pearl of Price
11. Death on the Nile (no, not that one!)
12. The Oracle at Delphi
Parker Pyne is an interesting character who manipulates people and circumstances in order to bring about his clients’ happiness. The first six stories take place in England and arise from clients visiting him at his London office. The second six stories all take place during a trip to and from the Middle East in locations that Christie would have visited with her second husband.
The first half are stronger stories because they fit the specific template that Christie created for the character and they are the ones I prefer, in particular 2, 4 and 6.
Recurring character development
J. Parker Pyne
Is “large, not to say fat, bald head, strong glasses, and little twinkling eyes”.
Has a contact within the Secret Service.
Parker Pyne’s secretary, described as “a forbidding-looking young woman with spectacles”.
The sensationalist novelist who has written forty-six successful works of fiction, all best seller in England and America, and freely translated into French, German, Italian, Hungarian, Finnish, Japanese, and Abyssinian, is now working for Parker Pyne.
Signs of the Times
Parker Pyne says that Mrs Packington would pay two hundred guineas for an operation (1). A reminder that in the UK we are very fortunate to have had the National Health Service since 1948.
Parker Pyne cites Lady Hester Stanhope when asked is Lady Esther Carr’s way of life is suitable for a well-born lady (9). Lady Hester Stanhope (1776-1839), niece of the unmarried prime minister William Pitt the Younger, acted as his private secretary and official hostess. She conducted the first modern archaeological excavation in the Holy Land at Ashkelon in 1815. She settled in what is now Lebanon and lived there until her death.
The quote at the end of “The Pearl of Price” is from David Garrick (1717-1779), English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer.
Mrs Peters enjoys reading “The River Launch Mystery” (12). This is another of Christie’s references to fictional works.
References to previous works
In “Have You Got Everything You Want?” Parker Pyne reverses Hercule Poirot’s journey from “Murder on the Orient Express”.
Vintage Reading Challenge
Fulfils “What – title contains two words beginning with the same letter”.