Agatha Christie continues to astound me. I am sure you guys have noticed my Shelfari sidebar and the fact that it keeps flashing more Agatha Christie titles, but I can’t help myself. First, I listened to And Then There Were None. Then I read The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Secret Adversary. This week I listened to The Man in the Brown Suit, on your many recommendations.
The woman was a versatile writer, which may just be the understatement of the last half a century. The Man in the Brown Suit, in case you are a non-mystery-reader (we can still be friends), I have to tell you up front, is more of a romantic jaunt, in the literary sense of the word. After finishing it yesterday, all I wanted to do was drink buckets of champagne and interject the words “loads” and “simply” into every sentence.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anne Beddingfield is raised by her anthropologist father, a well-known academic but a poor man more wrapped up in the dead than the living. After he dies, Anne refuses a more “suitable” arrangement and determines to find adventure like she has read in the (most likely salacious) The Perils of Pamela. Adventure finds her when a man on the train platform near her falls to his death after seeing something behind Anne that frightens him. The doctor who tends to the man wears a brown suit, and after he leaves hurriedly, Anne has her suspicions as to whether or not he is actually a doctor. The plot thickens, as they say, and hot on a clue, she knows she has found her adventure, setting off for South Africa, only to wind up with much more than she ever bargained while traveling with a hodgepodge group: Suzanne Bailey, Sir Eustace Pedler and his suspect secretaries Padgett and Rauburn, and Colonel Race.
The novel is told from Anne’s recollections but also from the diary of Sir Eustace Pedler. Ah, Sir Eustace, he likes his domesticity and hates to be put out. While Suzanne and Anne exist, he is put out. They just don’t act as women should, yet he admits he doesn’t really understand women. He complains a lot, about the weather, his secretaries, and South Africa, yet he is absolutely loveable and quite an important figure in the novel.
Anne – and Emilia Fox, who did a marvelous job narrating – have me wanting to walk around affecting an accent. Anne is full of grit and doesn’t frighten easily. She is practical in many ways, but she knows her life is not meant to be dour and domestic. She is, in many ways, a precursor to Nancy Drew. She is the girl we – or at least, I – want to be.
Between the two, there are hijinks aplenty, and the novel is part travelogue, mystery, and romance all in one. There wasn’t a single second I was disappointed in this book…until it ended.
Read this: and dream of the wilds of South Africa, train travel, and refinement. Maybe have a cup of tea to revive you when you realize you’ve never had such an adventure.
P.S. If you aren’t big into audiobooks but would like to try them out, I would say start with Agatha Christie. The books lend themselves very well to the format, and they are just such fun to listen to!