The Man in the Brown Suit
What a wonderful romp! Christie’s fifth outing (and fourth novel) takes us on a multi-continent adventure in search of the eponymous “Man in the Brown Suit” and the answer to the mystery of the death of an unidentified woman in a home owned by the absent Sir Eustace Pedler. After a scene setting prologue, introducing us third-hand to the character of the anonymous “Colonel,” a master criminal who has managed to never get his hands dirty, we start ordinarily enough in post-Great War England, with young heroine Anne Beddingfield, recently orphaned, rather poor, and in search of a great adventure. With nothing to lose, she takes the first opportunity to move to London, sure that it is a city where adventure awaits. Anne is not wrong. Soon she finds herself embroiled in a complex web of intrigue stretching from England to South Africa and Rhodesia, as she endeavors not only to track down the brown-suited man, but also to unravel the mystery of the murdered woman, and discover the hidden secrets of her fellow travelers.
Anne is a delight as a character, with her youthful enthusiasm and intelligence. And the remaining cast of characters are fascinating as well: Mrs. Blair, a wealthy but bored socialite; the silent, stern Colonel Race, who may or may not be British Intelligence; Sir Eustice Pedler, a wealthy MP who loves nothing more than comfort; the sinister-looking Guy Pagett, secretary to Sir Eustice; Harry Rayborn, a mysterious man also in the employ of Sir Eustace; and Reverend Edward Chichester, who may not quite be what he seems.
Much as with The Secret Adversary, The Man in the Brown Suit is more thriller than mystery, despite the murder in the early chapters. Rather, it is the murder that triggers subsequent events, and the reader is carried along with our young heroine, against a background of diamond thieves, revolution, and dynamic scenery. As far as I can discover, it has only had one film adaptation, a made-for-TV movie that doesn’t appear to have been well-reviewed, but with the fast-pace and variety of scenery, I can imagine it as an excellent big-screen entertainment. As much as I enjoy the mysteries of Hercule Poirot, The Man in the Brown Suit is so far my favorite of the Christies in my chronological set of reads.