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Old 05-15-2020, 11:28 AM   #1
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May 2020 Discussion • The Man in the Brown Suit

It's time to discuss our chosen guilty pleasure, The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie.



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Newly-orphaned Anne Beddingfeld is a nice English girl looking for a bit of adventure in London. But she stumbles upon more than she bargained for! Anne is on the platform at Hyde Park Corner tube station when a man falls onto the live track, dying instantly. A doctor examines the man, pronounces him dead, and leaves, dropping a note on his way. Anne picks up the note, which reads "17.1 22 Kilmorden Castle". The next day the newspapers report that a beautiful ballet dancer has been found dead there-- brutally strangled. A fabulous fortune in diamonds has vanished. And now, aboard the luxury liner Kilmorden Castle, mysterious strangers pillage her cabin and try to strangle her. What are they looking for? Why should they want her dead? Lovely Anne is the last person on earth suited to solve this mystery... and the only one who can! Anne's journey to unravel the mystery takes her as far afield as Africa and the tension mounts with every step... and Anne finds herself struggling to unmask a faceless killer known only as 'The Colonel'

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Old 05-15-2020, 11:29 AM   #2
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What did everyone think of it? Do you prefer your Agatha Christie as a book? Or find the books heavy going but the Movie/TV adaptations bring them alive?
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Old 05-15-2020, 02:28 PM   #3
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Now . . I must confess that I have read very few of Agatha Christie‘a novels. I believe the last was one ( I don’t remember which) involving Miss Marple about 40 years ago. However, I have seen quite a few dramatised for film and TV. But I really don’t know how faithful these were to the books upon which they were based. But I very much enjoyed this novel.

The first thing that I noticed was the tongue-in-cheek introduction to the heroine. Anne reminded me of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. Both have a kind of charming innocent naivety and equate the real world with the fictional world of the books they read. In Catherine’s case it is the gothic novel. Anne sees life through the prism of the pulp adventure story. The novel was originally serialised as Anne the Adventuress and Anne frequently references the cliff-edge serials made at the time. One can’t take the parallels between Catherine and Anne too far. Part of the charm of the novel is the winning bubbly personality of the latter. Further Anne really does get involved in pulsating adventures.

I think I would agree with those reviewers on Goodreads that feel that the book is a combination of a spoof of the form and also a tribute to it. Think of the opening of the original Star Wars. That opening introduction that scrolls across the screen is a nod back to the old “Flash Gordon” adventure series.

For the most part I thought TMITBS very effective. Anne is so likeable and the very funny diary entries of Sir Eustace Pedler were always entertaining. The breathless plot doesn’t give one much time to notice the complete improbability of it all.

On the other hand, perhaps it is just a bit too long. Sir Eustace is great as a comic figure but his transformation into a subtle villain doesn’t work for me.

And the ending...? Well this is Christie’s final dig at the endings of books like the Tarzan series where the Ape-Man takes his inheritance and becomes Lord Greystoke.

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Old 05-15-2020, 11:08 PM   #4
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I thought the novel was no better than OK, and I could have lived my life very happily without ever having read it. I was often bored and confused by the large cast of characters and the multiple identities--I couldn't remember who was who, and eventually I didn't much care.

I liked Anne for the most part, and I enjoyed the comedy in the novel. I was offended by Anne's (and the author's) willingness to let the villain of the piece get off scot-free--if he'd been a thief or a conman, fine, but he was a murderer, and I want my fictional mysteries to end with the murderer punished, with justice being done.

Back in the day, I devoured dozens of Agatha Christie novels, one after the other--probably all of them were Poirot and Marple. When I began to know instinctively who the villain was early on, I quit reading them. This novel didn't seem anything like the Christies I vaguely remember.
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Old 05-15-2020, 11:26 PM   #5
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Agatha Christie classified this book as an thriller rather then a mystery, although the interesting bit is that she was trying to base Sir Eustace on an actual person.
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It is, I think, the only time I have tried to put a real person whom I knew well into a book, and I don’t think it succeeded. Belcher didn’t come to life, but someone called Sir Eustace Pedler did.
Agatha Christie An Autobiography

She was also writing the book at home with plenty of interruptions
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‘Perhaps before we go we might just ask Mummy, if it doesn’t disturb her, because you know I would like to know about the pram.’ At this point, maddened, I would rise from my chair, all ideas of Ann in deadly peril in the forests of Rhodesia going out of my mind, and jerk open the door.

What is it, Nurse? What do you want?’

‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Ma’am. I am very sorry indeed. I didn’t mean to disturb you.’

‘Well, you have disturbed me. What is it?’

‘Oh, but I didn’t knock on the door or anything.’

‘You’ve been talking outside,’ I said, ‘and I can hear every word you say. What is the matter with the pram?’
Agatha Christie An Autobiography
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Old 05-16-2020, 12:52 AM   #6
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I have loved the various TV and Movie adaptations of Agatha Christie books, and very much enjoyed most of them. But every time I've tried to read Christie, it just hasn't worked for me. This, I'm sorry to say, held true to form. A plethora of characters, that I frequently lost track of, and somehow I was never able to quite get into it. Ah, well. More later.
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Old 05-16-2020, 04:24 AM   #7
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As you may have guessed, since I nominated it, I like this book. Indeed, it is one of my favourites of the vast collection written by Agatha Christie. Almost all my favourites of hers are stand-alone novels like this one.

This book was obviously written to be fun, and I always have lots of fun when I pick it up, so I count it as a great success.

Yes, these days I can see some of the flaws (the over-convoluted plot, the various info-dumps), but I love it nonetheless. It's only Christie's fourth published novel and in this we get to see her humour shine free. Her second novel, The Secret Adversary, has a similar feel, but I never really warmed to Tommy and Tuppence, whereas Anne Beddingfeld was an instant hit with me.

I read, and re-read, Christie for her characters. She regularly has a large cast, and I think she handles them adroitly; it's what makes her books work even when you know the outcome in advance. I am really not sure what say to those that had trouble keeping track of them in this book, it's simply not a problem I've ever had with Christie's stories.

I am wondering if she let the villain go at the end in the hope that she might get to continue with Anne the Adventuress in subsequent books. Only to discover that people, for some unfathomable reason, preferred Poirot. (Don't get me wrong, the Poirot stories are often clever, sometimes fun and almost* always good reading, but - for me - none have the spark of Anne the Adventuress.)


I have not seen the movie adaptation of this, and I have trouble imagining an Americanisation of the story (as that adaptation appears to be - I mean, Stephanie Zimbalist as Anne?). In general, I find the Agatha Christie film adaptations to be quite hit and miss.

* The Big Four stand out as an exception to this rule.

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Old 05-16-2020, 10:09 AM   #8
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I read, and re-read, Christie for her characters. She regularly has a large cast, and I think she handles them adroitly; it's what makes her books work even when you know the outcome in advance. I am really not sure what say to those that had trouble keeping track of them in this book, it's simply not a problem I've ever had with Christie's stories.
I couldn't stay focused. I was listening to the audiobook, and when I came to the part when Anne passionately declares her love for the man in the brown suit, I thought, Huh? When did this happen? I actually went back to the beginning to start over, because clearly I must have missed something. And then I missed it again, I guess, since I still have no clear idea what caused her outburst about undying love for Brown Suit.

After that, I stopped worrying about whether I missed something. I just accepted that the book was not holding my attention and kept going.
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Old 05-16-2020, 10:08 PM   #9
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I couldn't stay focused. I was listening to the audiobook, and when I came to the part when Anne passionately declares her love for the man in the brown suit, I thought, Huh? When did this happen? I actually went back to the beginning to start over, because clearly I must have missed something. And then I missed it again, I guess, since I still have no clear idea what caused her outburst about undying love for Brown Suit.

After that, I stopped worrying about whether I missed something. I just accepted that the book was not holding my attention and kept going.
Catlady, did you listen to the audiobook narrated by Zehra Jane Naqvi? I had trouble concentrating too and kept replaying portions. Then I switched to the ebook format and started over and realized that I had indeed missed many details! I found the written book to be more enjoyable than the audiobook.
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Old 05-16-2020, 10:15 PM   #10
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I have always enjoyed any TV shows or movies made from her books. Previously, I had only read 2 other Christie fiction books so I did not really have a preformed opinion going into this book about her collection of works. They were Death on the Nile and Hallowe'en Party. I enjoyed the former very much but not the latter according to my records. I often have a terrible memory when it comes to remembering books read years ago. I was surprised to learn that Death on the Nile is considered Book #2 in the Colonel Race series. I didn't even know there was a Colonel Race series until this book was selected.
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Old 05-17-2020, 12:15 AM   #11
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I've never tried an audiobook, so can't be sure, but the idea never appealed because I feel like I would always have trouble keeping my focus. (I regularly lose half of any music album I might be listening to due to wandering thoughts.)

I tend to think of Colonel Race as an occasional guest star rather than a series character. Same with Superintendent Battle and Ariadne Oliver. These are never the main protagonists in the stories, in the way Poirot, Marple or Tommy and Tuppence are. And knowing about Colonel Race in advance would be a significant spoiler for The Man in the Brown Suit, I think.


I am curious to see that none of us has yet mentioned the sexism and racism implicit in this book (after having had a good go at Tarzan). The racism is no more than I would expect of the era, but the sexism is interesting...

Such a strong and independent female lead, and yet she falls for (and directly justifies doing so) the stereotypical macho male - one who even threatens ‘I shall carry you away and beat you black and blue!’ It was tongue-in-cheek, sort of, but still made me somewhat uncomfortable to read (especially as Anne was reported as "pleasurably excited" by these declarations of violence). I wonder how much was deliberate satire, and how much was merely a reflection of the times.
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Old 05-17-2020, 12:31 AM   #12
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At the start we see Anne emerging from a very secluded existence: "Therefore, Papa being immersed in the past, Mamma having died when I was a baby, it fell to me to undertake the practical side of living." And then her father dies and she can have adventures.

Fairly recently I read some of the Amelia Peabody series written by Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Mertz). The first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, describes Amelia as have had a very similar secluded existence because of her studious father. Although set in the 1880s, the first book was written in 1975, and I wondered if Peters might have been partly inspired by The Man in the Brown Suit.

Of course there are differences: Anne is still very young, and emerges from seclusion quite poor. Amelia is 32 and emerges with plenty of money to fund her adventures.

I may well be just a coincidence, but the similarity in their situation struck quite strongly me as I read the opening chapters.
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Old 05-17-2020, 10:31 AM   #13
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Catlady, did you listen to the audiobook narrated by Zehra Jane Naqvi? I had trouble concentrating too and kept replaying portions. Then I switched to the ebook format and started over and realized that I had indeed missed many details! I found the written book to be more enjoyable than the audiobook.
I listened to the Emilia Fox version. I don't know why my attention was straying; I listen to audiobooks all the time and usually don't have any trouble focusing. In a few cases here something puzzling came up that didn't seem to have any predicate, but was explained later. I dislike when an author does that since I assume I missed something and waste time and effort going back.

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I have always enjoyed any TV shows or movies made from her books. Previously, I had only read 2 other Christie fiction books so I did not really have a preformed opinion going into this book about her collection of works. They were Death on the Nile and Hallowe'en Party. I enjoyed the former very much but not the latter according to my records. I often have a terrible memory when it comes to remembering books read years ago. I was surprised to learn that Death on the Nile is considered Book #2 in the Colonel Race series. I didn't even know there was a Colonel Race series until this book was selected.
I've seen only a handful of Christie-based movies: Witness for the Prosecution, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Mirror Crack'd. Possibly some other oldies; I know I haven't seen any of the TV adaptations, though.

I kept wondering why Colonel Race wasn't at the top of "Colonel" suspect list; I only eliminated him because the book was tagged as first in his series.
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Old 05-17-2020, 10:49 AM   #14
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I am curious to see that none of us has yet mentioned the sexism and racism implicit in this book (after having had a good go at Tarzan). The racism is no more than I would expect of the era, but the sexism is interesting...

Such a strong and independent female lead, and yet she falls for (and directly justifies doing so) the stereotypical macho male - one who even threatens ‘I shall carry you away and beat you black and blue!’ It was tongue-in-cheek, sort of, but still made me somewhat uncomfortable to read (especially as Anne was reported as "pleasurably excited" by these declarations of violence). I wonder how much was deliberate satire, and how much was merely a reflection of the times.
Offhand I don't remember any racism, implicit or explicit.

I don't think there was any sexism either, or at least any that was particularly notable. As you note, Anne was independent and strong-minded, and the fact that she marries doesn't negate that. She didn't seem to be sacrificing her own desires to his.

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At the start we see Anne emerging from a very secluded existence: "Therefore, Papa being immersed in the past, Mamma having died when I was a baby, it fell to me to undertake the practical side of living." And then her father dies and she can have adventures.

Fairly recently I read some of the Amelia Peabody series written by Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Mertz). The first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, describes Amelia as have had a very similar secluded existence because of her studious father. Although set in the 1880s, the first book was written in 1975, and I wondered if Peters might have been partly inspired by The Man in the Brown Suit.
Though I've read many of Mertz's books written under the Barbara Michaels pseudonym and a few under the Elizabeth Peters pseudonym, I've passed on Amelia Peabody--I'm not interested in anything to do with Egypt. But I noticed that Crocodile on the Sandbank is on sale today at Amazon for $1.99.
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Old 05-17-2020, 08:42 PM   #15
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Regarding racism, this line stood out:
Quote:
Old Batani hovered about, counting no more than a dog might have done.
Although, given the rest of the book, this might not be racism so much as classism. There must have been servants hovering about for most of our upper class characters but they get even less mention than the "Kafirs". I assume that in the 1920s "Kafir" was still slang for "native" rather than a deliberate racial slur.

As for sexism. It's the acceptance that his is the position of dominance. We imagine he might have met his match with Anne, we imagine that Anne will maintain some level of independence, especially since they have chosen to live in the wilds of Africa (and have natives for servants that they ignore in the same way they'd ignore English servants). But despite all that, even our independent Anne accepts that women submit to men - even worse, they enjoy doing so! This statement is repeated by Anne on a few occasions:
Quote:
And of course there is really nothing a woman enjoys so much as doing all the things she doesn’t like for the sake of someone she does like. And the more self-willed she is, the more she likes it.
Was I the only one that found this idea rather unsettling?
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