Monday, 26 October 2015
#CBR7 Book 114: "The Man in the Brown Suit" by Agatha Christie
Audio book length: 7hrs 59 mins
Rating: 5 stars
Anne Beddingfeld's father is a famous archaeologist and anthropologist. He dies, leaving Anne mostly penniless, but hungry for adventure. She kindly rejects the proposal of the village doctor and accepts her father's solicitor's invitation to stay with him and his wife for a time in London. Shortly after her arrival in the capital, she is witness to an accidental death. A man in a large overcoat reeking of mothballs falls onto the tracks of the train station, and a tall, bearded man claiming to be a doctor examines the body. The bearded man in the brown suit loses a scrap of paper, which also reeks of mothballs. Could he have been searching the dead body? The paper reads "17 122 Kilmorden Castle" - what could it mean?
The newspapers discover a connection with the dead man on the train tracks and a young woman murdered in the house of Sir Eustace Pedler. Not only that, but the man in the brown suit who Anne witnessed is the main suspect for the woman's murder. Then Anne discovers that the Kilmorden Castle is a cruise ship, sailing to South Africa. A first class ticket costs exactly the amount of money she was left after her father's debts were paid off, and Anne sees this as a clear sign that adventure is calling. With cheek and audacity, she gets the owner of the main newspaper hunting for "The Man in the Brown Suit" to agree to hire her on as a freelance reporter if she tracks down more information connected with the crime.
On the ship, the adventurous, but nearly penniless Anne befriends society beauty Susanne Blair and earns the admiration of both Sir Eustace Pedler, on his way to South Africa on a task for the Foreign Office and Colonel Race, a tall and striking gentleman rumoured to be working for the Secret Service. Among the travellers are also the suspiciously untanned Reverend Chichester, who claims to have been working in the depths of Borneo for years; Guy Pagett, Sir Eustace's secretary and Harry Raybourn, a mysterious young man who stumbles into Anne's cabin one night, having been stabbed by unknown assailants in the hallway. Sir Eustace claims the handsome young man is his other secretary, but Anne deduces that he is none other than the infamous "Man in the Brown Suit". After her brief evening encounter with him, she's convinced he didn't kill the woman in England, and becomes determined to clear his name.
The Man in the Brown Suit, along with They Came to Baghdad and Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (the first Christie I ever read), is probably my favourite Agatha Christie book, a fact my BFF Lydia knew very well. So trying to cheer me up when I was unable to read physical books while concussed, she sent me this as an audio book, bundled (really rather strangely) with the eighth Miss Marple mystery, 4:50 from Paddington. I hadn't realised, until I looked it up on Wikipedia to remind myself of the name of some of the secondary characters, that this was only Ms. Christie's fourth novel, which makes it even more of an impressive achievement. Apart from some very clunky info-dumping in the prologue, when two criminal henchmen sit around discussing the many nefarious acts of their employer, the shadowy "Colonel", in a way that no people ever would talk about a person they worked for, this book is a fun thrill-ride from start to finish.
There is Anne, the self-proclaimed adventuress, who loves "The Perils of Pamela" and wants to fall in love with someone strong, silent and dashing. Full of pluck and determination, she throws caution to the wind and travels to South Africa in search of a murderer, with barely a penny in her pocket, just convinced that it'll all work itself out somehow. Some might find her callous disregard for practicalities annoying, but I find her delightful and she's not wrong, things keep turning out in her favour, even if she keeps ending up in near-death situations.
This story has murder; stolen diamonds: abductions; dastardly henchmen; a cunning underworld kingpin; a dashing, wronged and emotionally vulnerable love interest and more. I like any Christie with a romantic subplot and my only gripe with the book is that Emilia Fox, who mostly does an excellent job with narrating, gave Harry Raybourn, our haunted love interest, a voice so dark and gravelly that it mostly reminded me of Christian Bale doing Batman-growling. See, Christian Bale's normal voice - lovely, luscious and sexy as heck. Christian Bale's Batman-growling - just not hot. Which is a shame, cause Harry Raybourn should be passionate and appealing. It didn't detract too much from my enjoyment, but means I can't rate the narration of the audiobook as highly as I'd like.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.