Heroine: Ann Beddingfeld
Published: 1924 (5th published book)
Length: 381 pages
Setting: Marlow, London, Southampton, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Bulawayo, island in the Zambezi
Written at: during a trip to South Africa, etc.
The Man in the Brown Suit was Agatha Christie’s fifth novel published by Bodley Head, her contract of six books almost satisfied. With it, she deviated from a pure detective novel, bleeding into the genre of a thriller which pleased some critics and dismayed others. Some bawled for the return of Hercule Poirot while others admired her entertaining execution. Personally, I thought the story was delightful, a page turner from beginning to end.
With the death of her father, Anne Beddingfeld is determined to escape the boredom of being deposited with relatives and to seek adventure. But when she witnesses a man fall to his death on the tracks of the Hyde Park Tube Station and another man in a brown suit ransack his pockets, dropping a note in his flight, she is certain there is something nefarious afoot. The note contains numbers and mentions Kilmorden Castle. The next day the newspapers report a young woman murdered at Mill House, the house of Sir Eustace Pedler and that a young man in a brown suit was seen fleeing the scene. Anne is further intrigued and when she visits the house, finds a canister of film and learns that the Kilmorden Castle is a cruise ship that is soon sailing for Cape Town, South Africa. Without hesitation she books passage and the adventure begins.
Do you ever read a book and wish you were a character? Well, I wish I was Anne Beddingfeld Her spunk and verve and zest for life permeates the book from the beginning of the story and it’s contagious. Never does she let lack of funds, propriety or danger stop her from chasing down the answer to the mystery. Nor does it prevent her from finding romance. With the appearance of the man in the brown suit on the cruise ship, Ann is convinced of his innocence but the list of other possible suspects is long: Colonel Race, an admirer of hers but also a rumoured British secret service agent; the Reverend Chichester who doesn’t seem as holy as his title implies and has a surprising resemblance to a number of people; Sir Eustace Pedler a debonair parliamentarian who is writing his memoirs; Guy Pagett the secretary to Sir Eustace and who holds a secret that he’s protecting at all costs; and, of course, Harry Rayburn a.k.a. the man in the brown suit who has somehow ensconced himself as Sir Eustace’s second secretary. Even her friend Suzanne Blair, an intelligent woman of society who sports many husbands, briefly comes under suspicion. From London to Southampton to Cape Town to Johannesburg and on to Bulawayo, Rhodesia, then to an island in the Zambezi, Ann piles adventure upon adventure and with the help of Mrs. Blair, matches wits with a desperate and artless murderer and thief to bring him to justice and to rescue the one she loves.
Christie employs a very neat technique of a dual narrative, interchanging Ann’s narrative with excepts from the memoirs of Sir Eustace. Her method has been criticized and it did take a little getting used to, as Ann is such a likeable character, but overall I enjoyed the effect. Sir Eustace has a charm of his own and his quirky and often self-absorbed narration adds humour and life to the story.
Inspiration for this novel came during a dinner party where Major E A Belcher, her husband’s old teacher, suggested a mystery set at his home, Mill House at Dorney. Christie complied, even making him a character in the work and thus Sir Eustace Pedler was created.
The Man in the Brown Suit was also made into a movie which I saw eons ago and loved. It starred Stephanie Zimbalist (from the Remington Steele fame) as Ann Beddingfeld, with a cast that included Tony Randall, Edward Woodward, Rue MacClanahan and Ken Howard. They all gave stellar performances.
The next book on my Christie list is The Road of Dreams which is a collection of her poetry that was published at her own expense. The reviews, however, were unfavourable and it’s not as readily available as her other works. Nevertheless, I’m going to try to track it down. In the meantime, I’m going to jump to The Secret of Chimneys which will technically be her 6th book. I can’t wait to start.
⇐ Poirot Investigates The Road of Dreams (tracking down for later review) ⇒