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The Man in the Brown Suit - Agatha Christie

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Author: Agatha Christie / Genre: Crime / Thriller

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    2 Reviews
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      23.07.2009 12:53
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      Entertaining early novel from Agatha Christie

      After I'd read & devoured most of the "Hardy Boys" series the next author I moved onto was Agatha Christie. The Man In The Brown Suit was her fourth novel, after The Mysterious Affair At Styles, The Secret Adversary & The Murder On The Links. A selection of short stories, published under the title "Poirot Investigates" had appeared just before this book came out taking Christie's number of published works to five at the time.
      The novel was written in 1923 & published in 1924 although the "action date" used was 1922.


      Main characters:

      Anne Beddinfeld: Orphan. Narrator and Our Heroine.
      Sir. Eustace Pedlar: MP entrusted with delivering a letter to South Africa's Prime Minister
      Guy Pagett: Pedlar's suspicious looking secretary. Very keen to get his hands on Cabin 17
      Harry Rayburn: Pedlar's second secretary with a secret
      Suzanne Blair: Well known society lady who befriends Anne
      Colonel Race: Strong, silent man, rumoured to be attached to the Secret Service
      Rev. Chichester. Suspicious clergyman. Very keen to get his hands on Cabin 17.


      Plot:-

      Nadina, a famous Russian dancer plans to blackmail her "boss", a mysterious figure known as "The Colonel" who directs a huge network of criminals. Before the war The Colonel arranged for some diamonds to be stolen from De Beers & for two diamond prospectors to take the blame for the theft but now he plans to retire, leaving his "employees" at a loose end. Nadina plans to blackmail The Colonel for a huge some of money, threatening to expose his part in the De Beers theft.....

      Enter Anne Beddingfeld. After the death of her father she's alone in the world, living in London with her father's solicitor & his wife. Returning from a job interview one day she notices a man standing alone on the train platform. A look of terror crosses his face & he steps backwards, falling onto the live track. A doctor comes forward & pronounces the man dead before quickly leaving the scene. Anne picks up a piece of paper he's dropped which reads 17.1.22 Kilmorden Castle.

      Anne's a witness at the inquest & discovers that the dead man has an order to view Sir Eustace Pedlar's house in his pocket. The following day it's reported that a young woman has been discovered at the house, strangled, & that the police are searching for "The Man In The Brown Suit" who told the gardener's wife that he was with the dead woman before leaving a little later & telling her that the house wasn't suitable. Anne theories that the doctor & the man who said he was with the strangled woman are one and the same. She manages to blag her way into seeing Lord Naseby, owner of The Daily Budget & talks him into agreeing to publish any interesting Anne uncovers with her investigations.

      By luck, Anne discovers that the Kilmorden Castle is the name of a ship so she books passage on it, certain that this is how the mystery will be solved. But the ship contains some very suspicious characters. Everyone says Colonel Race is a member of the Secret Service, but Anne believes he's been "pumping" her for information. Pagett was supposed to have been in Florence at the time the woman was murdered in Sir Eustace's house, but Anne's certain he's never been there and both he & the Rev. Chichester seem determined to move into cabin 17 which Anne believes is referred to in the note that the "doctor" dropped.

      At one point someone tries to throw her over the side of the boat but it's only when the passengers reach Africa that Anne realises just what lengths The Colonel & his gang will go to to ensure that she can't 'interfere' any longer..........




      Filmed version:

      The novel was filmed as a TV movie in 1988 & was updated which meant some aspects of the characters & plot was changed. It starred:-

      Stephanie Zimbalist - Anne Beddingfeld
      Rue McClanahan - Suzy Blair
      Tony Randall - Rev. Edward Chichester
      Edward Woodward - Sir Eustace Pedler
      Ken Howard - Gordon Race
      Nickolas Grace - Guy Underhill
      Simon Dutton - Harry Lucas


      My advice, if you like the novel, is to avoid the TV movie as it's a complete & utter travesty.




      Opinion:

      I remember buying this book around the same time as I bought Christie's second novel "The Secret Adversary". At the time I was struck by the similarities between the two of them.

      + Both contain heads of a criminal organisation:- This book has "The Colonel", whilst The Secret Adversary has "Mr. Brown"
      + Both are thrillers rather than the standard murder mystery even though there's a death in each.
      + Both are set in periods of unrest when protestors might rise up against the government.

      Does that mean if you work out the identity of "The Colonel" you'll also be able to work out the identity of "Mr. Brown" and vice versa? Maybe, maybe not. You'll have to read both books & find out for yourself.


      Having said that, I much prefer "The Man In The Brown Suit" to "The Secret Adversary" &, indeed, to most of the other early Agatha Christie books. The book isn't without it's flaws. It was written & set in the 1920s & will therefore seem dated to modern readers. Some aspects of the plot (a woman setting out to Africa on her own with very little money) may stretch credulity a little but that doesn't detract from the fact that this book is very enjoyable read.

      One of the main plus points is that the story is told in the first person, mainly by Anne Beddingfield who comes across as exceptionally likeable. We get to know what her thoughts & feelings are on the various people in the novel, what she thinks about pieces of information she's picked up from various places & what direction her suspicions are moving in. This is made possible because it's more of a thriller rather than straightforward murder mystery novel.

      At various points in the novel she suspects Colonel Race, Guy Pagett, and the Rev. Chichester, not to mention Sir Eustace Pedlar as it was his house in which Nadina was killed, of working against her. We get to see exactly what's caused her to reach the conclusions she's reached which is in stark contrast to the Miss Marple & Hercule Poirot novels. By & large with those characters we never know, at any given point of the story, who they might suspect of murder & why. The use of the first person frees Christie from this constraint but also allows her, through Anne, to lead the reader to suspect various characters during the story for a variety of different reasons.

      Some of the narrative comes in the form of extracts from Sir Eustace Pedlar's diary & he also emerges as a stong, likeable personality. There's a small part of the diary near to the beginning of the novel which explains that Pagett is his secretary which you wouldn't expect to see in the diary of a man who's employed Pagett for a number of years but this is a small quibble. Pedlar's diary is rather fun to read & offers the reader a different viewpoint for some of the events referred to in Anne's narrative. His comments on Pagett, Race, Anne & Suzanne Blair are some of the most enjoyable parts of the book.

      The other characters are perhaps less well drawn but this is only to be expected, given that they have no "voice" of their own & are only seen through the eyes of Anne & Sir Eustace. Despite this, the reader does get a strong sense of what each character is like, although their opinion on each of the characters may change over the course of the book. Colonel Race is perhaps the most mysterious character in the book & the reader gets to "know" him less than most of the other characters but the fact that Christie used him in further novels may ruin his part of the subplot if you've read Death On The Nile, Sparkling Cyanide or Cards On The Table.

      This isn't a book with any great depth to it, but it's well paced with interesting characters & the "voices" of Anne & Sir Eustace ensure that it's very entertaining. Definitely one of Christie's better early novels. Give it a try, you make like it.

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    • More +
      11.02.2009 20:33
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      Pleasant to read, nothing powerful.

      First published in 1924, "The Man in the Brown Suit" sees Christie moving away from the detective format of the majority of her other writings at the time and, instead, presenting the reader with a narrative that is a mixture of adventure, intrigue and romance. Drawing heavily, it appears (and subtly acknowledged) on the early 20th century series "The Perils of Pauline", the novel concerns the adventures of a young woman, Anne Bedingfeld, who finds herself pitched into dangerous and mysterious circumstances following the death of her father (after succumbing to pneumonia through working with pleistocene clay) and a number of strange incidents occurring at the time. These include the death of a man next to her at a train station and the subsequent pickpocket of his coat by a mysterious "man in a brown suit", resulting in Anne's curiosity being piqued. With the customary daring and intelligence that had already been present in Christie's earlier heroine - Prudence "Tuppence" Beresford (nee Cowley) and which was to be observed in later ones like Bundle Brent and Frankie Derwent, Anne finds herself on a literal and metaphorical journey, partly unwittingly caught up in murder, mystery and deception, in which no -one, it appears, can be trusted, or who are who they appear to be. From a quiet, sedate English village, across the Oceans and towards Cape Town in South Africa this story is filled with exciting episodes.

      Although this is a pleasing story, easy to read and one that can be returned to comfortably after the first perusal, it is one of Christie's more mediocre works. The budding romance, for example, between Anne and one of the other main characters often seems to be too formulaic,with first the man appearing ungracious and blunt, Anne finding him disagreeable and then - inevitably - after much adventure and suspense, the pair falling in love. It may be, then, that the romance was viewed as merely a side issue, one that can be almost discounted by the readers if they so choose.

      Far more interesting, however, is the strange relationship between Anne and Eustace Pedler, one borne mainly out of the job that Anne manages to procur for herself on that man's newspaper, yet becoming more intriguing as the story progresses. Right from almost the commencement of the story we are suspicious of this character (reminding us of her later works "Why didn't they ask Evans" and "Lord Edgware Dies", but we cannot be sure, indeed may strongly suspect otherwise, that Sir Eustace is involved in any unsavoury activities. Pedler is a powerful personality, driven by his own sense of individual importance and commanding respect from those who are associated with him. Yet is that reason enough to suspect him of murder?

      In many ways a great many of the other characters appear very much two dimensional, being used more as a means of telling the plot and of playing against the more rounded characters of Anne, Sir Eustace and John Eardsley. Many of the other people in the story appear almost as caricatures and whilst that does apply, plotwise, to a couple of them, others have no such excuse. It is evident that Christie wished to write a gripping, but simplistic adventure story and thus it appeas that some of the characters are superfluous to the narrative. For example, the passages early on in the novel when Anne is residing with her father's solicitor and his wife appear almost unnecessary, unless we are to use them to compare the comfortable, yet tedious life that Anne forgoes in order to board the ship which sees the start of her adventures.

      In conclusion, this story needs to be read as what it is, an uncomplicated adventure story which entertains without drawing us too strongly into the psyches of the characters. Anne Bedingfeld is deliberately interchangeable with many of the film heroines of that time or a few years earlier and it is that which may have assured the book's reasonable popularity when it was first published. Indeed, it may be one that translates better to the screen and perhaps Christie had that at the back of her mind when she was writing it. Certaintly there are many very visual passages. But, fortunately, the calibre of a lot of her other writings was to far surpass this one.

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  • Product Details

    A man is killed by a tube train, and a young girl sets off on an international adventure to find the murderers in this exciting new comic strip adaptation. Famed for her crime masterpieces, Agatha Christie's books have become the best-selling in the world, appealing to readers young and old for their ingenious plots and immediately recognizable characters. The stories have also transcended the printed page, become bestselling audiobooks and award-winning films, plays and television series. Now words and pictures combine in an exciting new way of telling these stories -- full-colour graphic novels which enhance the original stories and offer a completely new way of enjoying some of the world's most popular and exciting mysteries. Pretty, young Anne has come to London looking for adventure, but adventure finds her when a thin man, reeking of mothballs, loses his balance on the platform at Hyde Park Corner station and is electocuted on the rails. The Scotland Yard verdict is accidental death. But Anne is not satisfied. Who was the man in the brown suit who examined the body before racing off? Anne is determined to follow him!