Monday, April 15, 2013

Agatha Christie Challenge: The Man in the Brown Suit

I've just finished book four of my Agatha Christie challenge, and already I am noticing recurring themes and devices. For example, travel is a key ingredient in many of Christie's later books (The Mystery on the Blue Train, Murder on the Orient Express, Death in the Clouds, Murder in Mesopotamia, Death on the Nile, Passenger to Frankfurt, etc.) and is already an essential and recurring plot device in these earlier books as well. In Murder on the Links (1923) there's a chance encounter on a train that is key to solving the murder, in The Secret Adversary (1922), the sinking of the Lusitania is pivotal to the narrative, and in The Man in the Brown Suit (1924) the protagonist witnesses a murder that leads to travel to South Africa. 

Another recurring theme Christie uses (like Alfred Hitchcock later uses) is to place ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Her focus on an ordinary character enables the reader (or the audience in the case of Hitchcock) to relate to the action. In The Secret Adversary, Tommy and Tuppence, two everyday people, become entangled in a spy ring. In The Man in the Brown Suit, an innocent young woman is witness to a murder that eventually leads to international travel. It makes me think of Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which Jimmy Stewart plays an average American vacationing in Morocco when his son is kidnapped, and Northwest By Northwest, where a New York businessman, Cary Grant, is mistaken for a CIA agent that culminates on Mount Rushmore. Yet, even though, in a way, they are using the same story over and over, these recurring plot devices never seem hackneyed. Both Christie and Hitchcock always make them seem fresh and new. 

Likewise, Christie employs geopolitical crises in many of her works, not just as background and commentary, but as essential elements in the narrative (South African unrest in The Man in the Brown Suit, and cold war intrigue in They Came to Baghdad).

As a mystery, The Man in the Brown Suit is weak and predicable. Nevertheless, I found the book amusing and funny. Moreover, there are a few interesting coincidental references in the book. For example, the protagonist is the daughter of a famed archaeologist (Christie would later marry an archaeologist). She also happens to have a wise great-aunt Jane (perhaps a forerunner to Miss Jane Marple, who was introduced two years later?)

Rating: B

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