Anne Beddingfield has spent her life as secretary to her father, living in his dry scholarly world yet yearning for something more exciting. When her father dies and leaves her nearly penniless, Anne sets her sights on living the adventurous life of her dreams. Adventure finds her when, while waiting for a train in the London Underground, she sees the terrified look on the face of a man just seconds before he takes a step back, falling to his death on the live rails. Anne begins to connect seemingly unrelated events. Who was the mysterious man in a brown suit who “examined” the body and then vanished? Why did the dead man have a order to view the Mill House, where the body of a woman has been found strangled.
Armed with only one cryptic clue, a slip of paper dropped by the man in the brown suit, Anne decides to investigate and follows a trail that takes her on board the Kilmorden Castle, sailing first class on what remained of her father’s legacy, to Cape Town, South Africa.
Once Anne sets sail the murders take a back seat to her discovery of an international crime syndicate, headed by a criminal known only as “the Colonel”. There are lots suspects for Anne to mull over, but the identity of this mysterious individual is not that hard to figure out, and the solution to the mystery falls into place quite easily. I must say though that Christie did make the characters quite an interesting lot, and there are some who definitely stand out. The Rev. Edward Chichester, who Anne takes an instant dislike to because “[h]e had false teeth that clicked when he ate. Many men have been hated for less.” The officious secretary Guy Pagett “…a zealous, painstaking, hardworking fellow, admirable in every respect…”.
But best of all is Sir Eustace Pedler, the unfortunate owner of Mill House and Paget’s long-suffering boss.
For a long time I have been racking my brains as to how to get rid of him. But you cannot very well dismiss a secretary because he prefers work to play, likes getting up early in the morning, and has positively no vices. The only amusing thing about the fellow is his face. He has the face of a fourteenth-century poisoner—the sort of man the Borgias got to do their odd jobs for them.”
Sir Eustace is, in my estimation, the reason to read TMitBS. While the majority of the novel is written from Anne’s perspective, Sir Eustace’s diaries entries are liberally interspersed in the narration, filled with humorous tidbits that will amuse and entertain.
The Man in the Brown Suit was first published as a serial in The Evening News in 1923 under the title of Anna the Adventurous—definitely a more sensational title. And a fitting one for a protagonist who, much like the heroine of her own reading “The Perils of Pamela”, has a tendency to leap before looking, fall into the arch-villain’s clutches, and fall instantly in love with the he-man of her dreams. As I said in a comment to Kate @ Cross Examining Crime, “For a while I though I had mistakenly bought an Edgar Rice Burroughs…”Me Tarzan, you Jane!”
With it’s blend of romance and lightweight mystery, it reads like so many of the “cozy” mysteries of today. I’m a little surprised that someone hasn’t lifted the plot, changed the names, and published it as a totally new book…by a totally new author…Christie Mallowan sounds pretty good.
Now, it may sound to you as if I didn’t like TMitBS, but I did, to an extent. Just not as the murder mystery, adventure thriller that Christie intended. Basically, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon reading.
My Judgment – 3.5/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2013 Scattergories: Colorful Crime (book with a color or reference to color in the title)