Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Man in the Brown Suit

Hi, this is Heather here (these intro bits always feel awkward to write). It’s been a while since I’ve written a review on a book that hasn’t been recently published, so I’m back with some Agatha Christie. I initially read this when I was about eight or nine and I was hiding from some party downstairs with the first book I could seize without getting caught, but heard a rather brilliant audio book version of it a few weeks back that made the memories flood back. This should avoid spoilers.

Author: Agatha Christie
Published: August 1924
Publisher: The Bodley Head
Length: 238 or 312 pages depending on the one you get
Rating out of 10 (I keep forgetting to do this): ★★★★★★

In Christie’s world of Poirot and Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence, The Man in the Brown Suit rather stands out because there is no ‘detective’ as such. The little chunk at the start sets the scene for the orphan Anne, who has a quenching desire to seek out adventure (hence she calls herself Anne the Adventurer a few times)! I believe people would now call her spur of the moment idea to use whatever money she can muster to fulfil this excitement ‘yolo’ – as she travels with very little aside from the reputation of her deceased father, professor Beddingfield across the ocean. It doesn’t take long for an adventure to come along as some commotion over which cabin she’ll be sleeping in leads her to being involved in a dangerous position as she becomes suspected of being allied with the ominous ‘Man in the Brown Suit’ that ‘The Colonel’ is after.
Christie switches the narrative from Anne to Sir Eustace Pedlar, now I know that many people dislike the idea of points of view changing but in this instance, it really works. Anne is sweet, young and naïve, very likable – and that’s great – but you really need Sir Eustace to make this book worthy of reading. You can tell that Christie had a wonderful time writing his part, with his selfish soul, taunting his dear secretary, Pagett, Sir Eustace is that jolly old chap that has no filter and bluntly announces every thought to enter his head, however rude it may come across.
“To begin with, it appears he caught sight of a man behaving suspiciously. Those are Pagett’s words. He has taken them straight from the pages of a German spy story.”
Oh Pagett. Pagett is hard to put into words… He works tirelessly for his employer and seems to suspect a good many people of being guilty. Yet despite the mocking he receives, he always means well. Anyway, another main character who I feel I should mention is Suzanne, who craves a little excitement, but not too much, nothing that would take away the fun or dampen her hair. She gets on brilliantly with Anne and they form a strong friendship, both of them splashing out on lots of little wooden animals and having a lovely time of it between the more serious scenes. I’ve rambled again. You get the picture, Christie is yet again amazing at bringing to light some extraordinary characters. In fact, the only character I wasn't too fond of was the man in the brown suit ironically enough.
The plot and pacing of the novel is quite good. Personally, I found the last bit a little rushed and the last quarter seemed perhaps a tad too random for me. I won’t spoiler it because it isn’t necessarily a bad ending; the book is most certainly still worthy of a read – I think from a modern perspective, everything seems less romantic, but it’s critical to remember that this book, whilst by no means old in terms of literature, is also not exactly modern. This means that some of the ideas do reflect the time it was written in as Anne becomes a little less independent. It’s also good to remember that Christie is not an emotional writer in the way of writing deep, philosophical or mournful pieces, in this novel it’s all fairly light-hearted. Aside from the last bit, the pace is excellent, and the switching of narrators makes it an enticing read. Though I did find the structure a little on the annoying side – the prologue is so entirely different to the majority of the book and only really links in at the end. This means the story first appears confusing as it switches rather hurriedly from a Russian dancer and some diamond scandal to an introduction on Anne before the story really starts happening. Had the prologue been the penultimate chapter, it would have been far clearer in this sense.
Since I still have some time left to write, I thought I’d add a little section on the context of the novel and how that altered its reception. This book was preceded by a Poirot book, which meant that Christie had some fans that were anticipating a similar style – according to Wikipedia (I know, not very reliable, but it’s the best I can do), one reviewer noted that Christie regrettably had dispensed of the Sherlock-Holmes-like Poirot, which is what had caused the success of her prior books. This review kind of annoyed me for suggesting that Poirot was the pure reason Christie was so successful; I’d like to see them write as many different plots with such powerful characters! I rather liked having a protagonist who had no knowledge of how to solve crime except that of the works of fiction, it means the reader can relate more to the protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, Poirot is a masterpiece, but by no means is he the only detective that Christie came up with worthy of her success.
As a stand-alone novel to get yourself into Christie’s work, this is a good choice! The characters are, as usual, spectacular, giving this book a light, funny kind of style. If anyone did get the audio version, I must add in that the voice of Sir Eustace and Pagett is hilarious and really brings the book to life.

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