Friday, April 11, 2014

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

The Man in the Brown Suit 
by Agatha Christie

Published: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reissue edition
Format: e-book
Copyright: first published August 1924
Pages: 320
Genre: Mystery-Thriller 
Source: personal copy

From Amazon - Pretty, young Anne came to London looking for adventure. In fact, adventure comes looking for her—and finds her immediately at Hyde Park Corner tube station. Anne is present on the platform when a thin man, reeking of mothballs, loses his balance and is electrocuted on the rails. 

The Scotland Yard verdict is accidental death. But Anne is not satisfied. After all, who was the man in the brown suit who examined the body? And why did he race off, leaving a cryptic message behind: "17-122 Kilmorden Castle"?

While Agatha Christie is famous for her detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple this book is a standalone thriller. The main character is Anne Beddingfeld who, after a rather constricted life with her academic father, finds herself poor and at loose ends when he passes away. She becomes involved in a mystery when at the tube station she sees a man become so frightened that he steps backwards and falls to his death.

Anne finds a piece of paper with a clue and decides to try and figure out what is happening. This eventually results in her using the last of her money to get on a cruise ship bound for South Africa. For Christie fans, this book marks the first appearance of Colonel Race who appears again in Cards on the Table, Sparkling Cyanide, and Death on the Nile.

The start of the book is quite promising and I was enjoying it at first.

But then the romance was introduced and the book turned into a rather tough read for me. The thriller part of the story was still pretty good and resolved superficially well, but the 'romance' was awful! Anne is a pretty typical 'spunky' Christie heroine - she started out good, but her motivation for 'falling in love' with the guy - it didn't make any sense at all. Seriously - insta-love is bad enough, but insta-love based on vitriol ???  A serious WTF! The rambling soul searching that was supposed to explain her love, and her conversations with her love interest concerning the same, were practically painful. If this stuff represents what Christie really thought about how relationships work, it would go a rather long way to explain some of the difficulties in her private life. For example ...

"I shouldn't dream of marrying anyone unless I was madly in love with him. And of course there is really nothing a woman enjoys so much as doing all the things she doesn't like for the sake of someone she does like. And the more self-willed she is, the more she likes it."

Or this ...

"Women like to be mastered, but they hate not having their sacrifices appreciated. On the other hand, men don't really appreciate women who are nice to them all the time."

Bleargh! That is some seriously messed up stuff.

I am also not terribly sure about how South Africa was represented. The more I think about the resolution of the thriller, the more I realize that it wasn't terribly satisfactory either. The discussion between two main characters that was supposed to establish why this person wasn't the bad guy as opposed to someone else, didn't really make much sense and also suggests that the author was rather cheating by how some events were described earlier in the book. You also have the classic problem of a limited cast - by the end of book the 'bad guy' either has to be the last one left on your list of suspects or the author has to totally cheat and introduce a new character at the end of the book.

I finished the book, and unlike with another Christie that ticked my off so badly I threw it across the room, nothing went ballistic. However, I doubt I would ever read this story again, nor would I suggest this book to someone interested in trying out Agatha Christie. I thought this was a distinctly lacking effort.

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha, I'm sure you're right about this book -- my memories of it are very rosy because I read it when I was thirteen and it was the book that introduced me to Agatha Christie. But I do remember it saying some ridiculous things about gender. I remember writing an email to my friend being like, "Agatha Christie! How did I not know she wrote such good mysteries??" :p


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