The Case of the Discontented Husband is a Parker Pyne short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.S. in Cosmopolitan in August 1932. In the U.K. it was first published in The Strand Magazine in November 1932. It was later gathered and included as the fifth 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.
A 48-year old clerk calls on Parker Pyne who diagnoses his problem easily. After a lifetime of a "ceaseless struggle to survive", he just wants to "live gloriously for ten minutes." Parker Pyne thinks it can be done for £5.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Parker Pyne receives his next customer: Mr. Roberts is a city clerk of forty-eight years of age. He is happily married with two healthy children and a steady job. However his life has been one of steady work and survival with no moments of adventure and he feels in a rut. His wish is to "live gloriously" if only for a few minutes. He can only afford to pay five pounds for this privilege but Pyne accepts this offer, although warning Mr. Roberts that danger could be involved...
Pyne goes to the Bon Voyageur restaurant and meets a Mr Bonnington there. The previous evening, an absent-minded professor called Petersfield was murdered in an attempt to steal some secret plans from him. Fortunately, the plans were not taken but they have got to be sent safely to the League of Nations in Geneva. Their usual agents to carry out this task are either indisposed or, in the case of one by the name of Hooper, are not trusted as he is suspected of being a double agent. Pyne knows of someone who could take on the case...
Consequently Mr. Roberts, his wife and children fortuitously staying with her mother, finds himself travelling by first-class sleeper train from London to Geneva and a hotel where he will receive further instructions. He is not told the true nature of what he is carrying but that it is a cryptogram revealing the hiding place of the Romanov crown jewels. He arrives safely in Geneva and meets a tall bearded man who makes himself known to Roberts, gives him instructions to take a sleeper train for Paris and given password phrases to exchange with his next contact and a revolver for safety.
The next day at the station, he soon bumps into a glamorous foreign girl who uses the correct password phrases with him and tells him to meet her in her next-door compartment after they have passed the border. He does so and the girl reveals that she is frightened as someone called Vassilievitch is on the train in the compartment on the other side of hers and he is out to murder the girl and get the jewels. At his offer, she passes him a rolled-stocking with the jewels secreted inside for him to look after during the night. Embarrassed, he turns down the suggestion that he sleeps in her compartment to key an eye on her but he does agree to sleep in the connecting washroom. In the hours of darkness, he thinks he hears a noise coming from her compartment and enters it. She has gone and there is a smell of chloroform in the air. At the end of the carriage he spots the sleeping conductor and his discarded jacket and cap and, disguising himself as that official, gets Vassilievitch to open his door, pushes past him, locks the Russian out and unties the bound and gagged girl. They wait in the man's compartment until the next morning and upon arrival in Paris go on an extended run through the city in a bid to shake off any pursuers. They fly from Le Bourget to Croydon where they are met by a man identified as Count Paul Stepanyi (who looks similar to the tall bearded man in Geneva) who takes them to a country house. The stockings are handed over and Mr. Roberts is given a jewel-encrusted order in a Morocco case as thanks. He is also introduced to the girl properly – the Grand Duchess Olga. After Mr. Roberts has gone, the Grand Duchess, aka Madeleine de Sara, in reality Maggie Sayers, goes home to Streatham.
Pyne meets with Bonnington again. The plans were successfully transferred and he admits to giving his courier another more embellished story as a gun would seem too mundane.
Three agents of the other side meet in Paris, annoyed that their plans failed and they blame each other for their loss.
Mr. Roberts sits at home reading a book. Pyne sends onto him a cheque for fifty pounds with thanks from "certain people". Mr. Roberts is more than satisfied that he has had his bit of adventure.
- Parker Pyne
- Mr Roberts
- Madeleine de Sara
- Lucas Bonnington
- Professor Peterfield
- Bon Voyageur restaurant
- In the text found in Parker Pyne Investigates, Roberts' fee was £5. In the Strand Magazine, the title is The £10 Adventure. This suggests that the price changed between first publication and its inclusion in the anthology.
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
A radio dramatisation with the title "The £199 Adventure" was created for BBC Radio 4 and broadcast on 17 February 2003. The dramatisation was written by Mike Stott. Richard Griffiths played the part of Parker Pyne. As can be seen, the price had gone up.
- 1932 Cosmopolitan, issue 554, August 1932 with a sub-heading "Are You Happy? If Not Consult Mr. Parker Pyne". Illustrated by Marshall Frantz.
- 1932 The Strand Magazine, issue 503, November 1932 as "The £10 Adventure".
- 1934, Parker Pyne Investigates, William Collins & Sons (London), November 1934
- 1934, Mr Parker Pyne, Detective, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1934