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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

INSIGHTS: Agatha Christie's Parker Pyne.

Agatha Christie had numerous characters she often used beyond Poirot and Miss Marple. These include Ariadne Oliver, Harley Quin and Parker Pyne. In this article we focus on Mr. James Parker Pyne, though he is commonly only used his middle and last name - Parker Pyne.


"Are you happy? If not consult Mr Parker Pyne, 17 Richmond Street."


With these words, placed in the personal column of The Times, Mr. Parker Pyne seeks to find new clients where he can help them rediscover happiness. Unlike Poirot or Miss Marple, Agatha Christie never wrote a full length novel featuring Mr. Pyne, but she did write 14 short stories that appeared in several books - though most of them are in the 1934 collection Parker Pyne Investigates.

The Stories: Of the 14 stories featuring Mr. Pyne, the twelve were published between 1932 and 1933. The other two were published in 1935 and 1936, with the latter a reworked Poirot story. There is no full length Parker Pyne novel. Since many of these stories had different names over the years influenced by the country of publication, we have numbered them (1) - (14) for consistency and clarity even when the story was retitled.


Parker Pyne clearly inhabited the same world as Poirot, as Christie includes references to Miss Lemon and Ariadne Oliver in a few of the stories - beginning with inclusion in the first Pyne story (1) which marks their first appearance in print. Based on the physical description of Miss Lemon it appears she must have worked for Mr. Pyne before being employed by Hercule Poirot.


The First Printings:

The true first printings for all the stories were in magazines or newspapers.


Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 554, August 1932. Contains five original Parker Pyne stories under the collective title Are You Happy? If Not Consult Mr. Parker Pyne. Marketed as a ‘complete novel’ it comprised these stories:

(1) The Case of the Discontented Soldier.

(2) The Case of the Distressed Lady.

(3) The Case of the City Clerk.

(4) The Case of the Discontented Husband.

(5) The Case of the Rich Woman.


Woman’s Pictorial (UK), Issue 613, 8th October 1932. Contains one original short story:

(6) The Woman Concerned - retitled as The Case of the Middle-aged Wife in the book.


Cosmopolitan Magazine (USA), Issue 562, April 1933. Contains four original stories under the collective title Have You Got Everything You Want? If Not, Consult Mr. Parker Pyne. The stories are:

(7) Have You Got Everything You Want?

(8) The House at Shiraz.

(9) Death on the Nile.

(10) The Oracle at Delphi.

(11) The Gate of Baghdad.


Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine (UK), Issue 482, July 1933. Contains three short stories under the sub-heading of More Arabian Nights of Parker Pyne. The three stories are The Pearl, Death on the Nile and The Oracle at Delphi.

(12) The Pearl is the only first printing.


The Strand Magazine (UK), Issue 539, November 1935.

(13) Problem at Pollensa Bay.


The Hartford Courant newspaper (USA), 3rd May 1936. While provided for reference, it should be noted this is not the same story later published featuring Parker Pyne. This first publication featured Poirot and was titled thus:

(14) Poirot and the Regatta Mystery. We are unaware of a magazine publication of the Parker Pyne version of this short story.


Alternate UK/US Versions:

For collectors of UK versions, if the story was first published in the US, then the Nash's Pall Mall magazine referenced above (Issue 482) will also provide you the first UK printings of (9) and (10). The six magazines below provide the other UK printings, with the exception of The Case of the Rich Woman for which we are unaware of any UK magazine that contains it.


Woman’s Pictorial (UK), Issue 614, 15th October 1932. Contains the short story (1) Adventure – By Request: The Case of the Discontented Soldier.


Woman’s Pictorial (UK), Issue 615, 22nd October 1932. Contains (2) Faked! The Case of the Distressed Lady.


Woman’s Pictorial (UK), Issue 616, 29th October 1932. Contains (4) His Lady’s Affair: The Case of the Discontented Husband.


The Strand Magazine (UK), Issue 503, November 1932. Contains the short story (3) The £10 Adventure (UK title).


Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine (UK), Issue 481, June 1933. Contains three short stories under the sub-heading of The Arabian Nights. The three stories are (7) On the Orient Express (UK title), At the Gate of Baghdad and (8) In the House at Shiraz.


The Strand Magazine (UK), Issue 546, June 1936. Contains the first UK publication of the Poirot version (14) Poirot and the Regatta Mystery.

As with the US printings, there is no known UK magazine printing of the Parker Pyne version.


For collectors of US first printings, you will also need to obtain:


Liberty Magazine (USA), 5th September, 1936. (13) Siren Business (US title). Note: we have been unable to verify its presence in this magazine.


Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, November 1957. (12) Once a Thief (US title).


The Books:

Parker Pyne Investigates, Collins, London, UK. November 1934. This collection comprises the first twelve of her fourteen stories. Priced 7/6 on the backstrip (spine) of the jacket, this was not a Crime Club imprint and the cloth was purple with silver lettering. The first published book review was in The Observer on 18th November, 1934.

Of note, Collins printed a second edition of this book later in the same month as the first. Two print runs in one month implies the first run was smaller than initial demand.


The first US edition is believed to have been published in December 1934 as the first US book review was in the New York Times Book Review on 1 January 1935. For unknown reasons, the US title was changed to Mr. Parker Pyne Detective.

However, it was still published under the Red Badge Mystery imprint of Dodd Mead & Company, New York, consistent with Christie’s other books. It was priced $2.00.


The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories, Dodd Mead & Co, New York, USA. June 1939. This short story collection contains both The Problem at Pollensa Bay and The Regatta Mystery. This is the first printed version of this story anywhere containing Parker Pyne.

The Problem at Pollensa Bay, Todd Publishing, UK (1943). According to the British Library archives, this small soft-back publication also contained Christmas Adventure. It was also included in Poirot Lends a Hand (even though one story did not include Poirot!),also a soft-back, published by Polybooks (UK) in March 1946. This collection also contained Poirot and the Regatta Mystery and The Veiled Lady.

Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories, HarperCollins, London, UK. November 1991. This short story collection was published only in the UK. However, all the stories it contained had previously been published in America. For fans of Parker Pyne it was the first book printing in the UK of his version of The Regatta Mystery. It could be argued it is the first book version of The Problem at Pollensa Bay though the 1940s versions are technically the first despite being soft-back books.


Values:

Parker Pyne Investigates: The UK first edition is exceptionally rare in dust jacket and the book is uncommon in collectible quality. Expect to pay £1,000 ($1,400 US) for a very good condition book and £20,000 - £25,000 ($28,000 -$35,000 US) for a very good book in very good dust jacket. The jacket has also been seen unpriced on the backstrip which was for the overseas markets and may be considered marginally less valuable.


The US first edition is much more affordable but still uncommon in jacket. For a very good book in very good jacket value is $1,800 - $2,500 (£1,500 - £2,000 UK). However, most copies that come to market have heavily damaged or chipped jackets and thus are worth significantly less.


The Regatta Mystery: This US only book is scarce in jacket. For a very good book in very good jacket value is $2,000 - $2,500 (£1,600 - £2,000 UK).


The various Polybook and Todd Publishing small soft-back books from the 1940s are scarce and a very good edition can command £250 - £500 ($400 - $600). Yet, awareness of these rare publications is not as broad and a collector may be able to find one at a great price.


The Problem at Pollensa Bay (UK, 1991) is available for the equivalent of new book pricing.


Other Editions/ Versions:

Parker Pyne Investigates: 2nd, 3rd & 4th Collins Impressions: There were a total of four UK impressions of Parker Pyne Investigates in its first two years in print. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th impressions of this Collins Mystery book are all uncommon and correctly jacketed copies are exceptionally scarce.

1934, November: Collins 2nd impression. Given the two print runs in the first month of publication the normative assumption is that they were both issued with 7/6 priced jackets. However, it is possible this print run was for the Colonial market as unpriced jackets are known to exist. If a portion of this impression was clad in 7/6 priced jackets they will by now certainly have been married with a 1st impression book.


1935, December: Collins 3rd impression. A copy of the 3rd impression has been seen correctly paired with its original dustjacket, priced 3/6 in black on the backstrip. Otherwise the art is identical to the 7/6 first.


1936, August: Collins 4th impression. Some uncertainly still remains around whether this impression was still priced 3/6 or whether Collins had now changed to their cheap "2/6 Library Edition" brand. One respected dealer in Christie believes this 2/6 was used on several print runs, but no earlier than 1937. Sadly, few if any jackets still clad their original books so authentic pairing of jacket art to editions is harder from the 4th edition onwards.


For any of these impressions, expect to pay £150 ($210 US) for a very good condition book. A 3/6 jacket, should one surface, will still command a very strong price. Given the recent auction price for the 3/6 Three Act Tragedy jacket, expect to pay at least £3,000 - £4,000.


For the 2/6 Library Edition jacket expect to pay significantly less as the artwork is substantially different. The background is now green and the backstrip art is different from the first and second state jackets. Prices for this 3rd state jacket would be up to £1,000 ($1,400 US) if in very good condition.


Later US Editions: In the US, Dodd Mead handed off reprint rights to Grosset & Dunlap as they did with most of their Christie books. The 1935 reprint by Grosset and Dunlap is very affordable, though still uncommon, and will typically retail for $250 in the reprinted jacket, which is similar to the first.


Later Hardback Book Editions: Below is a sampling of later English language hardbacks. All are highly affordable alternatives.

1959: Collins reprint: Similar DJ art to first edition, green & yellow backstrip. Value: £35.

1967: Collins reprint: Similar DJ art to first edition, grey backstrip. Value: £45.

1974: Collins reprint: Similar DJ art to first edition, grey backstrip. Value: £30.

1987: Bantam Books, leatherette edition. Value: $5.

2010: HarperCollins facsimile edition. Value £20 as new in jacket.


The First Paperbacks: Below is a sampling of the English language paperbacks containing various Parker Pyne stories.


The true first paperback edition of Parker Pyne Investigates was the 1935 printing by The Albatross (#138) in Europe. While The Regatta Mystery was first published in paperback by Avon books (US) in 1946 (#85).

Another paperback of note is the 1951 Dell Books "map back", NY, USA, number 5

Paperback Values: Aside from The Albatross edition (worth £75 with no jacket or £150 with the jacket), no other paperbacks are particularly unique or uncommon. Most can be found in very good or better condition for £10 ($14 US).


Magazine Values: Issues of Cosmopolitan Magazine are more common and can generally be found for $30 (£22 UK) in collectible condition. The Parker Pyne issues of Woman’s Pictorial, The Strand and Nash’s Pall Mall are all quite scarce so expect to pay £30-50 ($40-70 US) for copies in very good condition.


Summary: As always, we encourage and welcome additions or corrections. Please email them to us at collectchristie@gmail.com.


Happy Hunting!


Note: We have also written similar articles about two other lesser used Christie characters - Ariadne Oliver and Parker Pyne. See the links below.

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