07/12/2007

The Man in the Brown Suit (by Agatha Christie)

Every so often I like a change from my steady diet of character-driven sagas or romantic novels. So when I saw several paperbacks by Agatha Christie in a charity shop, recently, I couldn't resist.

'The Man in the Brown Suit' isn't in her normal style of murder mystery, or whodunit. It's really a thriller. I didn't realise that at first, though, because the novel does start with two murders - or, at least, two deaths. It's narrated by Anne Bedderfield, a young woman who's alone in the world after the death of her highly academic father. She first sees a man on a railway station who is frightened by something, and falls onto the line. He appears to have died instantly, but the doctor who comes forward to examine him may not in fact have been a doctor...

Next, in an apparently unrelated incident, a woman is found dead in a house that's available for rent. A man in a brown suit is the clear suspect.

Yet there does seem to be a connection between the two deaths, as far as Anne is concerned. In desperate need of some excitement, she spends the last of her money on a ticket on a ship to South Africa, following some clues she has discovered. There she meets several other people - the genial Sir Eustace, his dour secretary Paggett, and his dashing but abrupt second secretary Harry Rayburn. Anne gets all the excitement she could wish for, with a wounded man bursting into her cabin, and another trying to push her overboard.

Oh, it's all a bit unlikely, or perhaps it's just that the book is now over eighty years old, and we live in a different, faster-paced electronic world. Not that 'The Man in the Brown Suit' seems particularly dated, other than the lack of modern amenities, and a bit of inherent colonial-style racism (the black South Africans are referred to as 'natives', for instance). But it's all a bit unbelievable. Naturally the good guys survive - well, Anne has to, as she's narrating - and the conclusion is neat and tidy. I had even guessed most of the revelations that occurred towards the end, about who were the good guys and who were the not-so-good.

Still, an enjoyable and exciting light novel, well-written and very cleverly plotted. So much so that it's been almost constantly in print in both the USA and UK. There were so many characters that I didn't always keep track of who was who, or even where the plot was going, but it didn't seem to matter.

Recommended.

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