Context in Christie WorksEdit
Like The Secret Adversary, the novel concentrates less on pure detection, and is more a thriller of the period. It follows the adventures of Anne Beddingfeld as she gets involved in a world of diamond thieves, murderers and political intrigue in this tale set in exotic Southern Africa. Colonel Race makes his first appearance in the novel; he later appears in Cards on the Table, Sparkling Cyanide, and Death on the Nile.
Orphan Anne Beddingfeld leaves her home when her father dies and heads for London in search of adventure. There she witnesses an accident, and a mysterious man who attends the victim claiming to be a doctor. Anne picks up a note which had come from the victim's pocket, and follows the trail from London, aboard ship, to Africa, finally a lost island, tracking stolen diamonds.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Nadina, a "Russian" dancer receives a visit in her dressing room from Count Sergius Paulovitch. Both are in the service of a man they call "the Colonel", an international agent provocateur and criminal. After many years, 'the Colonel' is retiring, leaving his agents high and dry. Nadina has double-crossed the Colonel, however, keeping some De Beers diamonds from a crime years before. She now plans to blackmail the Colonel with the diamonds.
Anne Beddingfeld, a young English woman recently orphaned, longs for adventure and jumps at the chance when her father's solicitor suggests she lives with him and his wife in London. Returning from an unsuccessful job interview, 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 inquest on the dead man, 'L. B. Carton', brings a verdict of accidental death. In his pocket was a house agent's order to view a house for let – The Mill House in Marlow – and the next day the newspapers report that a dead woman has been found there – strangled. The house is owned by Sir Eustace Pedler MP. A young man in a brown suit is identified as a suspect, having entered the house soon after the dead woman.
Anne realizes the 'doctor' did not examine the dead man in an appropriate manner and gets suspicious. After fruitless investigations at Mill House where she finds an undeveloped canister of film, Anne finds out that Kilmorden Castle is the name of a boat sailing on 17 January 1922 from Southampton to Cape Town. She books a passage on it.
On board ship, Anne meets Suzanne Blair, Colonel Race, and Sir Eustace Pedler himself. In addition to his normal secretary, Guy Pagett, he has employed a man who goes by the name of Harry Rayburn.
At 1.00am on the morning of the 22nd, a young man staggers into Anne's cabin having been stabbed. Anne is able to dress the man's slight wound but the man is not in the least bit grateful and leaves after an altercation with her.
One evening on the ship, Colonel Race recounts a story of the theft of a hundred thousand pounds' worth of diamonds some years before, supposedly by the son of the South African gold magnate, John Eardsley and his friend Lucas. John and his friend were arrested but John's father, Sir Laurence, disowned his son. John Eardsley was killed in the War and his father's huge fortune passed to a next of kin. Lucas was posted as "missing in action". Harry Rayburn walks into the cabin as the story is being told, overhears it, looks sickly and leaves. Race reveals he himself is the fortunate next of kin.
Anne confides in Suzanne and they examine the piece of paper Anne obtained in the Underground station. They realize that the paper could refer to cabin 71 – Suzanne's cabin, originally booked by a Mrs Grey, a pseudonym for Nadina. Anne and Suzanne speculate that Nadina was the dead woman in the Mill House. Anne suddenly connects finding the film roll in Mill House with a canister of returned film that was dropped into Suzanne's cabin on night of the 22nd. They look in the canister and find uncut diamonds. They speculate that Harry Rayburn is the "Man in the Brown Suit".
Anne is attacked as she walks the deck of the ship. Harry Rayburn saves her. Anne amazes Harry with her knowledge of events in Marlow and at Hyde Park Corner station and suggests that Harry may be Lucas and the "Man in the Brown Suit". They again part on bad terms.
Once they arrive in Cape Town Anne is lured to a house at Muizenberg, where she is imprisoned in the attic by a bearded Dutchman. Anne overhears the Rev. Chichester speaking with the Dutchman about "the Colonel" wanting to question her tomorrow. The next day she escapes and makes her way back to Cape Town.
There she finds that Harry is wanted as the "Man in the Brown Suit" but has gone missing. Pedler offers Anne the role of his secretary on the train trip to Rhodesia, which she accepts at the last second, and is reunited with Race, Suzanne and Pedler who has a new secretary named Miss Pettigrew.
In Bulawayo, Anne receives a note from Harry which lures her out to a ravine near their hotel. There she is chased and falls into the ravine.
Almost a month later, Anne awakens in a hut on an island in the Zambezi with Harry Rayburn, who rescued her. He reveals that someone deliberately caused her to fall.
Anne and Harry fall in love. Harry tells her of the diamond discovery he and John Eardsley made years earlier. They were duped by a young woman called Anita Grünberg, who substituted their diamonds for ones stolen from De Beers. After being listed as missing in action, Harry disappeared, coming to Africa under the name of Harry Parker.
Some time later he came across a man – Carton - and recognised him from the incident with Anita Grünberg. Carton is revealed to be the man who fell in the Tube station and dropped the note Anne found. Harry followed Carton to London and Nadina to the Mill House, but insists Nadina was already dead. He realised that the diamonds were probably still on the Kilmorden Castle. Anne confirms they were, and were handed to Suzanne in her cabin on the night of the 22nd.
Harry's island is attacked that night by a party led by the red-bearded Dutchman, but the two manage to escape, and Anne plans to return to Pedler's party where she can keep an eye on developments. They exchange codes to be used in order that neither can be duped again.
Reunited with Suzanne, Anne is told that the diamonds are with luggage sent on with Sir Eustace. She also receives a telegram from Harry telling her to meet him.
Anne goes to the meeting with Harry and again bumps into Chichester, alias Miss Pettigrew. She is led to Sir Eustace, alias "the Colonel". Pedler forces Anne to write a note to Harry to lure him to the curio shop, which she does but she does not include their code in it. Harry turns up and Pedler is exultant – until Anne pulls out a pistol and they capture Pedler. Race turns up with reinforcements and Pedler tries to bluff matters out, but is unsuccessful.
Sir Eustace manages to escape. Anne is somewhat pleased, having developed a fondness for him. Race tells her that Harry is in fact John Eardsley, not Lucas, and therefore the heir to the fortune. Harry however has found his happiness with Anne, and they marry and live on the island in the Zambezi.
- Anne Beddingfeld, orphaned daughter of Professor Beddingfeld
- John Eardsley, son of Sir Laurence Eardsley, the South African mining magnate, alias Harry Rayburn
- Colonel Race, a distant cousin of Sir Laurence Eardsley
- The Hon. Mrs Suzanne Blair, a society lady
- Sir Eustace Pedler, MP
- Guy Pagett - Sir Eustace Pedler's secretary
- Anita Grünberg, alias Nadina, alias Mrs de Castina – one-time agent of 'The Colonel'
- Arthur Minks, alias the Rev. Edward Chichester alias Miss Pettigrew, alias Count Sergius Paulovitch - an agent of 'The Colonel'
- Harry Lucas, friend of John Eardsley, killed in the First World War.
- Mr Flemming, solicitor, and his wife: Anne's landlords after her father's death
- L. B. Carton, husband of Anita Grünberg and victim at Hyde Park Tube Station.
- Inspector Meadows
- Lord Nasby
- Augustus Milray
- A red-bearded Dutchman, an agent of 'The Colonel'
- James - gardener at Mill House and his wife Caroline James
- Marquis of Loamsley
- Professor Peterson
Literary significance and receptionEdit
The Times Literary Supplement reviewed the novel in its issue of September 25, 1924. The review appreciated the "thriller-cum-adventure" style of the book and concluded "The author sets so many questions to the reader in her story, questions which will almost certainly be answered wrongly, that no one is likely to nod over it, and even the most experienced reader of romances will fail to steer an unerring course and reach the harbour of solution through the quicksands and shoals of blood, diamonds, secret service, impersonation, kidnapping, and violence with which the mystery is guarded."
The unnamed reviewer in The Observer of September 7, 1924 said that, "Miss Christie has done one bold and one regrettable thing in this book. She has dispensed with Hercule Poirot, her own particular Sherlock Holmes, to whose presence and bonhomie and infallibility the success of her previous books has been mainly due." After comparing Poirot with Harry Rayburn, the reviewer continued by saying that the book, "will be something of a disappointment to those who remember The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It is an excellent and ingenious complexity, in its way, but it might have been written by quite a number of the busy climbers of who now throng this particular slope of Parnassus. One almost suspects that Miss Christie contemplates exchanging the mantle of Conan Doyle for that of Miss Dell; a hazardous manoeuvre, for the two authoresses are very different in tastes and sympathies." The reviewer went on to say that, "The plan of the book is rather confused. There is a prologue which does not link itself up with the rest of the story for quite a long time; and the idea of giving alternate passages from the diaries of the heroine and of Sir Eustace Pedler is not altogether justified by the glimpses it gives of that entertaining but disreputable character. One of the points on which some readers will have doubts is as to the plausibility of the villain: assuredly he is a novel type in that role. The book, like all Miss Christie's work is written with spirit and humour."
Robert Barnard: "Written during and about a trip to Southern Africa, this opens attractively with the heroine and her archeologist father (Agatha's interest in the subject was obviously pre-Max), and has some pleasant interludes with the diary of the baddie. But it degenerates into the usual stuff of her thrillers, and the plot would probably not bear close examination, if anyone were to take the trouble."
Some additional blurbs regarding the book, and used by The Bodley Head for advertising subsequent print runs, are as follows:
- "A capital tale — mystery piled on mystery, incident on incident. — Referee.
- "Agatha Christie has written a most entertaining story, excellently conceived and executed." — Morning Post.
- "I give ‘The Man in the Brown Suit’ my most ringing applause." — Star.
References to actual history, geography and current scienceEdit
The book has some parallels to incidents and settings of a round-the-world work trip taken by Christie with her first husband Archie Christie and headed by his old teacher from Clifton College, Major E. A. Belcher, to promote the forthcoming 1924 British Empire Exhibition. The tour lasted from January 20 to December 1, 1922 (It was on the tour that Christie wrote the short stories which would form all of Poirot Investigates (1924) and most of the contents of Poirot's Early Cases (published in 1974).) Dining with Belcher before the trip, he had suggested setting a mystery novel in his home, the Mill House at Dorney, naming the book The Mystery of the Mill House and insisted on being in it as well. He is the inspiration for the central character Sir Eustace Pedler, having been given a title at Archie's suggestion, and the Mill House also makes an appearance, albeit transposed to Marlow.
Christie found Belcher "childish, mean and somehow addictive as a personality: ‘Never, to this day, have I been able to rid myself of a sneaking fondness for Sir Eustace,’ wrote Agatha of the fictionalised Belcher, whom she put into The Man in the Brown Suit. ‘I dare say it's reprehensible, but there it is.’"
Film, TV or theatrical adaptationsEdit
The book was adapted by Alan Shayne Productions in association with Warner Brothers Television as TV movie in 1988. The adaptation is set in a more contemporary era than the 1920s and many details are changed as a result.
Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie seriesEdit
A TV film adaptation L'Homme au complet marron was made in 2017 as episode 17 of season 2 of the French series Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie. This adaptation is set in 1950s Lille with Samuel Labarthe as the French detective Swan Laurence assisted by Blandine Bellavoir as the reporter Alice Avril and Elodie Frenck as Laurence's secretary Marlène.
Graphic novel adaptationEdit
The Man in the Brown Suit was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on July 16, 2007, December 3, 2007, adapted by "Hughot" and illustrated by "Bairi" (ISBN 0-00-725062-2). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2005 under the title of L'Homme au complet marron.
- 1924, John Lane (The Bodley Head), August 22, 1924, Hardcover, 312 pp
- 1924, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1924, Hardcover, 275 pp
- 1949, Dell Books (New York), 1949, Paperback, (Dell number 319 [mapback]), 223 pp
- 1953, Pan Books, 1953, Paperback, (Pan number 250), 190 pp
- 1958, Pan Books, 1958, Paperback, (Great Pan G176)
- 1978, Panther Books (London), 1978, 192 pp, ISBN 0-586-04516-3
- 1984, Ulverscroft Large Print Edition, Hardcover, ISBN 0-7089-1125-0
- 1988, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), 1988, Paperback, 240 pp, ISBN 0-00-617475-2
- 2007, Facsimile of 1924 UK first edition (HarperCollins), November 5, 2007, Hardcover, 312 pp, ISBN 0-00-726518-2
Following completion in late 1923 The Man in the Brown Suit was first serialised in the London Evening News under the title Anne the Adventurous. It ran in fifty instalments from Thursday, November 29, 1923 to Monday, January 28, 1924. There were slight amendments to the text, either to make sense of the openings of an instalment (e.g. changing "She then..." to "Anne then..."), or omitting small sentences or words. The main change was in the chapter division. The published book has thirty-six chapters whereas the serialisation has only twenty-eight.
In her 1977 Autobiography Christie makes a slight mistake with the name of the serialisation and refers to it as Anna the Adventuress (possibly confusing it with the 1904 book of the same name by E. Phillips Oppenheim). Irrespective of this mistake, the change from her preferred title was not of her choosing and the newspaper's choice was one that she considered to be "as silly a title as I have ever heard". She raised no objections however as the Evening News were paying her £500 for the serial rights which she and her family considered an enormous sum. At Archie's suggestion, she used the money to purchase a grey, bottle-nosed Morris Cowley. She later stated that acquiring her own car ranked with dining at Buckingham Palace as one of the two most exciting incidents in her life.
Christie was less pleased with the dustjacket of the book, complaining to the Bodley Head that the illustration by the unnamed artist looked as if the incident at the Tube Station depicted was set in "mediaeval times" when she wanted something "more clear, definite and modern". The Bodley Head were anxious to sign a new contract with Christie, now recognising her potential, but she wanted to move on, feeling that "they had not treated a young author fairly".
The US serialisation was in The Blue Book Magazine in three instalments from September (Volume 39, Issue 5) to November 1924 (Volume 40, Issue 1) with each issue containing an uncredited illustration.
Christie's dedication in the book reads:
"To E.A.B. In memory of a journey, some Lion stories and a request that I should some day write the Mystery of the Mill House".
E.A.B. is Major E. A. Belcher (see References to actual history, geography and current science above).
The dustjacket front flap of the first edition carried no specially written blurb. Instead both the front and back flap carried adverts for other Bodley Head novels.
- Czech: Muž v hnědém obleku (The Man in the Brown Suit)
- German: Der Mann im braunen Anzug (The Man in the Brown Suit)
- Swedish: Mannen i brunt (The Man in Brown)
- Turkish: Kahverengi elbiseli adam (The Man in the Brown Suit)