The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

The Man in the Brown Suit Agatha Christie

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.

RMS Mauretania 1907

RMS Mauretania 1907

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.

Cape Town's City Bowl

Cape Town’s City Bowl (South Africa)

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.

Dorney Court

Dorney Court (not Mill House)

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.

Muizenberg Beach suburb of Cape Town

Muizenberg Beach c. 1911 ~ Ann was kidnapped and taken here

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)  ⇒

26 thoughts on “The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

  1. I read this back in ’13 and after “Then There Were None” was probably my favorite Christie book. For me, the villain made the book. I think I called him “a truly classy villain”.

    I had no idea there was a movie. Glad you mentioned it as that might just be the movie I watch and review for June. I love it when things come together like that 😀

    • “And Then There Were None” is my favourite Christie too, although I haven’t read all her works yet so if it’s my true favourite is yet to be seen. And again, I would have to say so far TMitBS is my second favourite. I quite enjoyed all the characters but the villain was a touch of genius by Christie.

      The movie is wonderful! I think you’ll love it. I can’t wait for your review.

        • It’s on Youtube but you’d have to put up with Japanese subtitles. Otherwise it’s overdubbed in Italian which I don’t think would work for either of us, lol! I hope your search is fruitful!

          • And Interlibrary loan saves the day again! Our library doesn’t have it but another does. No youtube shenanigans for me!

  2. I know you never give away spoilers but I was still kind of wary of the review because I wanted to develop my own ideas and well, turns out from what I glean, they are not much different from yours! (Surprise!) But I am still in the middle of this along with Johnson and Boswell and Micherner and host of others. But I shall get to the bottom of this! GREAT REVIEW as always!

    • At least you’re still reading which sounds a little like me. I’m (I was) supposed to be reading The Divine Comedy with a friend and I completely fell off schedule and feel so guilty about it. I have to concentrate on it in the next few days. I’m about 30% through Johnson so I can’t imagine I’ll finish by May 31st. If I didn’t have Dante, I could, but two big books that have to be read NOW is not happening.

  3. i envy your writing ability: it’s fluid and cohesive and a pleasure to read. i read this several times and greatly enjoyed it… tx for featuring it…

    • Thanks for your kind comment and support, Mudpuddle. I appreciate your words so much! I love writing and only wish I had more time to work on it. But it’s nice to be blogging again and re-connecting with all my blog friends!

  4. I read this last November when Josh and I went camping for a weekend. It was down in the forties, and we were as close to our bonfire as we could without burning ourselves (although the soles of my shoes melted a little).

    We enjoyed it so much that I continued reading by flashlight after we got in our tent and sleeping bags (that were luckily made for low temps) and finished it as we were driving through the countryside back home.

    It is a fun read and I liked the heroine, too. The Mystery really kept us going and I liked the boat trip and time in South Africa.

    And, OK, I’m old fashioned but I like it when the handsome, adventurous young man gets the pretty, spunky girl in the end.

    • That’s so wonderful that you and Josh read together. I have friends who read together every night but not all husbands are so willing. Sounds like a fun camping weekend!

      I liked the romance too but oh, if only life was really that way!

  5. I think Christie had a soft spot for spunky female heroines. Off the top of my head, the Sittaford Mystery has one too as does Why Didn’t They Ask Evans. And clearly she liked a romance.

    I think I’ve not read this title yet, but I will someday.

    • Oh yay, so I have some fun heroines coming up! Can’t wait! And romance ….. being whisked off to an island on the Zambezi ….. I wonder if she can top that!

    • Emily Trefusis (from The Sittaford Mystery) is a wonderful character!

      Sooner than her, though, Cleo, you will get Katherine Grey in The Mystery of the Blue Train. Katherine isn’t quite as spunky as Anne (or Emily), but she is a really good foil to Papa Poirot. Mystery of the Blue Train isn’t one of Christie’s strongest mysteries, but I didn’t find it as bad as Christie herself did.

      Also, your next book, The Secret of Chimneys features two of Christie’s Bright Young Things – Virginia Revel and Lady Eileen Brent (aka Bundle). Bundle shows up again in The Seven Dials Mystery, which is the better of the two, I think.

      I am a fan of Chimneys, but it isn’t one of Christie’s most popular books. I enjoy it because it is so deeply British Country House Between the Wars.

      • Oh now you’ve completely inspired me! I just want to go from one Christie to another. It’s hard to keep up with the reviews! I’ve just finished Chimneys. On one hand, it’s completely ridiculous and the characters were so shallow (except for Battle) but on the other hand, I just loved it. And it’s not something I would normally love. It’s so hard to explain. I had no idea Christie was so varied. I can’t wait to read Sittaford, Blue Train, etc.!

  6. Oh, I am just enchanted by your review of this Christie novel. Must get into right away. Sounds perfect for me.
    And, sigh! I’m afraid I have spent much of my life being a bit like Emma. I do not like Emma at all; that’s because I don’t like the Emma in me. In these later years, I try very hard not to meddle or help or “give advice” to others who so woefully seem to need it. I realize so clearly now that it’s their life and my advice, in most situations, is useless verbiage. I sympathize instead.

    • Ah, another book for your “not quite spring” blahs! 🙂 I think it would be just the thing! Let me know what you think.

      I think Emma gets a bad rap. Her heart is in the right place, she’s just a little short sighted. But with maturity and a little help from Mr. Knightley she’ll grow into a compassionate woman. So if you’re Emma, even a little, I think that’s okay. But I do know what you mean; age and wisdom tend to temper us a little which is probably for the good.

  7. Oh, that’s what this one is called! I am forever getting the Mystery of the Blue Train and then being disappointed when it isn’t this one. Now I can find a copy and read it again; I like Anne very much.

    • Lol! I’m glad it’s all cleared up for you. 🙂 Anne is awesome; if only we can hold on to her energy and wonder as adults.

  8. Oh, this one sounds like so much fun! I’ve just picked up a copy of And Then There Were None, I’m really looking forward to diving into more Christie, might pick this one up after that 😉❤️

    • And Then There Were None is still my favourite although, of course, I haven’t read all her works yet. I do hope you enjoy it and pop back and let me know what you think of both. Thanks for visiting, Sheree!

  9. I’m not familiar with the one, but it sounds great fun! You are really tempting me to a complete Christie read-through, Cleo. If only there weren’t so many other books on the stack to go through first…

    • Even if you decide not to do a read-through, this one is definitely worth the time. And it’s a stand-alone so you won’t have more tempting you afterwards, like a Poirot or Marple mystery.

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