The Case of the Discontented Soldier is a Parker Pyne short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.S. in Cosmopolitan in August 1934. In the U.K. it was first published in Woman's Pictorial in October 1932. It was later gathered and included as the second 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. Besides Parker Pyne, this story also features Miss Lemon and the writer Ariadne Oliver who will later be associated with Hercule Poirot.
A bored retired soldier calls on Parker Pyne for help in getting some excitement in his life.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Major Charles Wilbraham calls at Parker Pyne’s office. He has recently returned after many years in the service of the Empire in East Africa and is retired. As Pyne instantly concludes, he is bored stiff living in an English village after a lifetime of excitement and adventure. Pyne charges him fifty pounds and instructs him to take Madeleine de Sara to lunch. She returns a few hours later unsuccessful: she has frightened the Major off, as he thinks her something of a vamp; his tastes run to fair-haired, blue-eyed women. Pyne consults a list and decides that Freda Clegg will be suitable...
The next day Wilbraham receives note from Pyne instructing him to go to an address in Friar’s Lane, Hampstead and call at a house named "Eaglemont." In Friar’s Lane, Wilbraham hears cries for help and going into an empty house sees a young blond-haired, blue-eyed woman being attacked by two black men. He fights them off and takes the young lady for a coffee to help her get over her attack.
She tells her story: her name is Freda Clegg and she is an orphan. The previous week she received a visit from an Australian lawyer who told her she might come into a legacy from business transacted by her late father but that it was dependent upon her having some papers of his. She handed him all of the papers she has, having no idea what the matter could be about and then received a letter from him asking her to call on him at his house, "Whitefriars" in Friar’s Lane – the empty house, and it was there she was attacked and Wilbraham saved her. The Major’s theory is that there is something in her father’s papers that the man posing as a lawyer wants desperately. Freda remembers that she thought her room had been searched when she was out and that this attack was possibly to take such papers by force from Freda if she had them on her person, or to force her to tell where they are.
They go to her room in lodgings in Notting Hill and in a slit in the lining of her father’s old chest find a document which the Major recognises as being written in Swahili. The Major can understand the writing and realises that it refers to a hidden cache of expensive ivory. The Major asks if he can keep the document for the moment and will call on her tomorrow at half-past-six when he has thought of a plan of action.
As promised, he returns the next night but finds a note from Freda asking him to join her at "Whitefriars." He buys a stamp from the landlady, posts a letter and then proceeds to Hampstead. Entering the empty house, he is soon knocked on the head and regains consciousness in the cellar. Freda is also there and the two of them are bound. She tells him that she too received a letter, purportedly from the Major, asking her to go to "Whitefriars". Suddenly the voice of the lawyer booms in the darkness. The two of them have interfered in his plans and he must dispose of them. A trickle of water starts to pour from a hole in the wall into the room and Freda realises that they are meant to drown. She remains somewhat calm while the Major strains successfully at his bonds. He frees himself, then her and they flee the house. Freda is full of admiration for Wilbraham and he impulsively proposes. She accepts and then worries about her father’s paper which is missing from his pocket. He tells her that what they took was a spoof copy and he posted her father’s paper on to his tailor using a stamp he got from her landlady.
Parker Pyne visits Mrs Oliver, the novelist and congratulates her on the story she thought up for him to use with the Major and Freda, although he thinks the cellar of water was something of a cliché. "Whitefriars" is a house Pyne bought long ago which he has so far used for eleven exciting dramas.
The Wilbrahams, happily married, are in Africa. Without telling each other, both think they paid money to Pyne and he didn’t provide anything for them (It turns out Freda had also paid Parker Pyne three guineas for some excitement). Nonetheless, neither bears a grudge – if they hadn’t gone to see Pyne, the train of events that led to them meeting would never have happened...
- Parker Pyne
- Felicity Lemon
- Ariadne Oliver
- Major Charles Wilbraham
- Freda Clegg
- Madeleine de Sara
- Mr Reid
- Mrs Parkins
- Friars Lane, Hampstead
- Freda's lodgings, Notting Hill Gate
- Major Wilbraham's fee is 50 pounds whereas Freda Clegg's is 3 guineas. Elsewhere, Parker Pyne always charged fees in guineas unless they were merely expenses. Major Wilbraham's fee is a rare exception and inconsistency. This is corrected in the film adaptation where the fee becomes 50 guineas.
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
The story was adapted by Thames Television in 1982 as the fifth episode of their ten-part programme The Agatha Christie Hour. Maurice Denham played Parker Pyne and Angela Easterling played Miss Lemon.
- 1932 Cosmopolitan, issue 554, August 1932 with a sub-heading "Are You Happy? If Not Consult Mr. Parker Pyne". Illustrated by Marshall Frantz.
- 1932 Woman's Pictorial, issue 614, 15 October 1932 with a subtitle "Adventure - by request". Illustrated by J. A. May.
- 1934, Parker Pyne Investigates, William Collins & Sons (London), November 1934
- 1934, Mr Parker Pyne, Detective, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1934