Still on my Agatha Christie revisiting spree, and this time, like The Mystery of the Blue Train which I read last, I picked one that I didn’t remember much of from previous reads. The Man in the Brown Suit (1924) does have a mystery element and clues thrown in as AC usually does, but essentially, it is more an adventure/thriller story than a mystery, and so, while enjoyable, it is not at the same level as her mysteries.
Anne Beddingford is young girl who lives with and looks after her father, an archaeologist/anthropologist who is completely immersed in his work and cares little about anything else, even practical things including money. After he falls ill and dies, Anne is left with a tiny fortune to fend for herself. After what has been essentially an uneventful life, all she wants is adventure of the kind she has seen in the Perils of Pamela. And adventure does find her when a strange man, smelling of moth balls, dies accidentally at a tube station. Anne alone has noticed that something frightened him tremendously, causing him to fall. She finds a mysterious scrap of paper near the body which she picks up, as well as an order to view Mill House, the home of Sir Eustace Peddler. Alongside, there has also been a mysterious death (of a foreign lady) at Mill House, which Anne realises must be connected to this one. The only suspect is a man in a brown suit who had followed the lady to Mill House, and was seen leaving soon after. After her visit to the police proves to be futile, she decides to investigate herself, and following the clues she finds, ends up travelling to South Africa having spent every penny she had. Aboard the ship are Sir Eustace, who we learn separately has been charged with a mission of his own, his secretary Guy Pagget, another new and equally mysterious secretary, Mrs Blair, a socialite, and Colonel Race. Both on the ship, and in Africa Anne finds herself embroiled in the thick of adventure, and realises only too late what a dangerous situation she has gotten herself into.
The story is told in two voices, on the one side we have Anne’s narrative, telling of the events that befell her, and alongside we read the diary of Sir Eustace Peddler, narrating his version of the same or related events in a rather amusing tone. The prologue alone is in third person. Being one of Christie’s adventure tales, once again involving missing or stolen gemstones, and a master criminal, it is as is the usual case a little childish compared to her proper mysteries. But it still makes for a fun read. I especially enjoyed Sir Eustace’s dairy which is written in a fairly humorous manner, wry and amusing—a man who wants to simply be left in peace but seems to be harried by everything and everyone, especially his secretary Guy Pagget, it seems.
There is definitely a mystery at the bottom of the matter, and as Christie usually does, she gives us some clues, including a big one, but that just before the denouement. But mostly it remains an adventure tale with Anne doing most of the investigation and finding clues, but at the same time falling into the villains’ hands more than once. As far as the suspects are concerned, there are a few, and one doesn’t immediately guess who could be at the bottom of it all; this was the book that introduced Col. Race, but having come across him in so many of her subsequent books, one safely crosses him off no matter what clues point to him or suspicions thrown, and this ends up reducing our range a bit and making the solution perhaps somewhat easier. The others too have their secrets, so there are those to unfold as well.
Anne is a fun character, with a great deal of spunk and resourcefulness, and she is also rather intrepid, but perhaps also reckless, jumping into things without thinking too much about them. Still she is pretty likeable.
There is also some local ‘colour’ woven in to the book with Anne and Mrs Blair buying various carved animals on their journey in Africa, as well as the unstable local political situation. Written when it was, this one does have a few things that aren’t entirely PC. This one also had a reference to E.M. Hull’s The Sheik (which would have come out 5 or 6 years before this one), the second Christie novel I noticed this in (The Secret of Chimneys was the other). I haven’t read it but it’s still fun to spot the allusions.
If you pick this one up, don’t expect Christie’s usual mystery, but as a lighter-hearted thriller/adventure it is entertaining and good fun.
Have you read this one? How did you like it? Looking forward to your thoughts!
Cover image: Goodreads