In broad daylight and right in front of her eyes, Anne Beddingfeld sees a man fall to his death from a train platform. Was it an accident? Did he just fall, or is there something far more sinister at play? Or was he pushed? Suspiciously, a man in a brown suit rushes to his side, but then dashes off. Anne assumes he's a doctor hoping to help the man, but the man was beyond help. Published in 1924 The Man in the Brown Suit is one of Agatha Christie's earliest mysteries and it has about it an air of romantic suspense. The story is narrated by beautiful but accident-prone Anne Beddingfeld, the daughter of a scholar who cares more about his antiquities than about Anne. Upon his death she sees her moment for a life of adventure finally arrive. And she's about to have the adventure of a lifetime.
Near the body Anne discovers a slip of paper with a rather cryptic notation--a series of numbers that seem to be a date and the name Kilmorden Castle. As the only witness to this 'crime' Anne sets off to do a little sleuthing on her own. She begins to wonder if the man in the brown suit is the murderer rather than a concerned bystander, especially when she crosses paths with him again and yet more dead bodies begin to turn up. Whatever she lacks in ready cash (her father left her with nothing but bills) and practical skills, she makes up for in moxie and a certain fearlessness.
She convinces the owner of a newspaper to publish her story if she can get to the bottom of this messy affair and sets out to untangle the sordid web that she seems to have fallen into. Murder on a train platform. A mysterious man in a brown suit. A dropped note. An unknown woman murdered in the house the dead man was planning to rent. A film canister. And stolen diamonds. Cherchez l'homme. If she can find the man in the brown suit, she knows she can fit together all the pieces.
Her search takes her to a ship sailing for South Africa, and she has just enough cash to buy a ticket. A disparate group of travelers will muddy the waters and throw Anne into increasingly dangerous situations. She has a knack for walking into traps set by the murderer and his thugs. But she has, too, a knack for slipping away at just the right moment. She's befriended by a slightly older woman who happens to have an equal sense of adventure as well as a wealthy husband, and she breaks not just a few hearts along the way, too.
The culprit is unsurprisingly right in front of our eyes all the way, and romantic sparks flare from just the corner we expect it. Agatha Christie's The Man in the Brown Suit is a somewhat farcical, good-humored rollercoaster ride of a story. It comes before Miss Marple arrives on scene in later books and with just a couple of Poirot novels under her belt. The novels feels like a departure from where her works will spin off to in the future, which is perhaps not a bad thing. There is the signature Christie reasoning and deductive puzzle solving here, but also the romantic thread is quite lively in this story. Interestingly the play between the sexes, and human nature in general is quite pronounced--what later will be Miss Marple's puzzle solving forte. But as a novel of its times, the romance is more akin to 'cave man' school of romance than of an independent woman coming into her own. Not a bad thing considering the period, only there were some curious scenes, comments and assumptions. As well, though, there were some very amusing lines, too.
"It is really a hard life. Men will not be nice to you if you are not good-looking, and women will not be nice to you if you are."
"I walked out with what dignity I could muster. I dare say it is good for one now and again to realize what an idiot one can be! But nobody relishes the process."
All in all this was an entertaining read, though not Agatha Christie's best--with as many books as she wrote and considering this is an early work, it's not surprising really. Still an Agatha Christie novel is almost always a good bet. I'm glad I have so many still to discover. And I do love a good mystery that includes adventures by rail or boat! This is my first Vintage Mystery Bingo read. I think I'll put my marker on the "read one book with a color in the title" category. I've already started Josephine Tey's The Man in the Queue, the first Inspector Grant mystery. It should fit the "book set in the entertainment world" slot nicely since the queue the title refers to is for the theatre.