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Literature / The Man in the Brown Suit

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The Man in the Brown Suit is a 1924 novel by Agatha Christie.

It is one of Christie's one-off novels, featuring neither Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. Instead, the heroine is feisty young Anne Beddingfield. Anne has been spending a rather dreary existence as housekeeper to her father, an eccentric archaeologist. When her father dies suddenly and unexpectedly, Anne fends off a job offer at the library and a wedding proposal from the local doctor, and instead hies off to London, in search of adventure.

She finds it. Anne is waiting to catch a Tube train when the man next to her gets a look of shock and horror on his face, steps backward, and falls off the platform to his death below. A mysterious man in a brown suit who acts like a doctor pronounces the man dead, but Anne finds him suspicious. She sees that he dropped a note on which is written the words "17.1 22 Kilmorden Castle." It turns out the man, one L.B. Carton, was going to see a house in London, owned by one Sir Eustace Pedler, with the intention of renting it. The next day, a woman is found dead, strangled in that same house. The suspect is a man in a brown suit who was seen leaving minutes after the woman entered.


Anne goes to the police with her suspicion that the death of Carton and the mystery woman are connected, but they blow her off. When she discovers that "Kilmorden Castle" is actually the name of a passenger ship headed for South Africa, she boards it immediately, and embarks on an adventure that involves stolen diamonds, a criminal mastermind known only as the Colonel, a rebellion in South Africa, and a mysterious handsome man named Harry who may be the man in the brown suit.

Compare They Came to Baghdad, another one-off Christie spy novel with a very similar plot structure, regarding a woman who goes off to an exotic location in search of love and adventure and finds a sinister conspiracy.



  • Acid Reflux Nightmare: So Sir Eustace believes. When Suzanne says that she's worried because she had a bad dream, Sir Eustace says "everybody knows that nightmares are a direct result of injudicious eating."
  • Affably Evil: Sir Eustace is "genial and smiling", a good-natured fellow who is nice to everybody. He's also a murderer and head of an international crime organization. He asks Anne to marry him after she confronts him with his secret identity, and later he waves cheerfully to her as he's taken away.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Anne, thirsting for adventure, sets out herself to pursue the man in the brown suit, rather than share what she's found out with the police.
  • Arms Dealer: One of Sir Eustace's criminal businesses; in fact he's in South Africa to sell weapons to revolutionaries. He tells Anne that the revolutionaries are doomed, but he doesn't care because he was already paid.
  • As You Know: In the Villain Opening Scene, Nadina helpfully tells the "Count" what they both know, namely, that the Colonel is a criminal mastermind whose organization has done all sorts of bad things—jewel robbery, espionage, assassination, etc.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Anne and Harry start sniping at each other from the instant that she saves him from the man who was chasing him with a knife. The sexual tension is extremely obvious.
    Anne: "Lovers always fight," I assured him. "Because they don't understand each other. And by the time they do understand each other they aren't in love any more."
  • Bland-Name Product: Anne likes to go to the movies to see Film Serial The Perils of Pamela—which of course is The Perils of Pauline.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Discussed Trope, as Anne notices how the villain in The Perils of Pamela never just kills Pamela the easy way, but rather sets her up to die in a "sewer gas chamber" or something of the sort, thus always allowing the hero to rescue her.
  • Brainy Brunette: Anne is quite adept at thinking on her feet, and her scientist father allowed her to imbibe some knowledge. Much ado is made of her deep black hair.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The wooden giraffe that Suzanne gets talked into buying by a native, the one that Sir Eustace complains about having to carry around. That's where Suzanne hid the diamonds.
  • Dirty Old Man: Sir Eustace is in his fifties, twice Anne's age, but talks repeatedly about her great legs and asks her to be his secretary so she can "hold my hand".
  • Disguised in Drag: :Miss Pettigrew, the homely secretary that Sir Eustace complains about being burdened with, turns out to be a man in disguise.
  • Distant Finale: Ends two years later, with Harry and Anne living on his island still, raising a small son, while Anne talks about writing the book and the message that she got from Sir Eustace.
  • Extremely Protective Child: Anne's father is an absent-minded scientist, so it's her job not only to take care of the practical side of their lives, but also to make sure her father is properly dressed for bad weather. When she isn't there to keep an eye on him, he takes his coat and scarf off, and dies of pneumonia.
  • Face of a Thug: Pagett. Ser Eustace declares he's got the perfect looks for an Italian poisoner in the Quattrocento, but his idea of a crime is sneaking out to visit his sick wife and newborn child.
  • Foreshadowing: Harry's true identity is discreetly implied when he's having trouble to explain his backstory to Anne, speaking of himself as another person and being ignorant of his relationship with his father.
  • Going by the Matchbook: Anne picks up the cryptic note which the fake doctor dropped as he hurried out of the Tube station, and that is the start to her investigation.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Without realizing the implications of what he's saying, Pagett blurts out that he saw Sir Eustace in Marlow at the time of the murder. Sir Eustace says "Have you told this to anyone else?"—and Pagett has told someone else, namely Anne, which presumably is what saved his life.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Anne says that "Papa coughed badly" after taking off his coat and muffler for a trip to the local cave. Four days later he's dead of pneumonia.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: In Cape Town, Anne realizes that a man is following her. To steady her nerves, she goes into a cafe and orders...two ice cream sodas.
    Anne: A man, I suppose, would have had a stiff peg.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: To a disturbing degree, Anne gets turned on when Harry goes into his caveman act.
    "And shall I marry a nice steady man if I find one?" I asked demurely.
    Harry came close to me.
    "My God! Anne, if you ever marry anyone else but me, I'll wring his neck! And as for you—"
    "Yes," I said, pleasurably excited.
    "I shall carry you away and beat you black and blue!"
    "What a delightful husband I have chosen!", I said satirically. "And doesn't he change his mind overnight!"
  • Intrepid Reporter: Sort's more a matter of Anne getting herself hired as a reporter so she has a means of investigating the mystery of the man in the brown suit.
  • Karma Houdini: Sir Eustace, international crime kingpin, who strangled Nadina to death, who tried to murder Anne twice, escapes. At the end of the novel he's at large. Anne admits that as bad as he was she likes him and is pleased to hear that he got away.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Anne doesn't have hairpins when she's hiding out on Harry's island, so she goes around with her hair loose. This is what leads Harry to finally declare his feelings.
  • Love at First Sight: Anne rescues Harry when he's stabbed on board the boat, and becomes so infatuated with him that she's willing to "walk across Africa" for his sake.
  • Person with the Clothing: The papers are full of talk about "the man in the brown suit" who was seen leaving Sir Eustace's house.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The sudden death of her professor father frees Anne to go off and see the world and find adventure.
  • Plucky Girl: Anne Beddingfield, who decides on the spur of the moment to throw herself into an adventure involving murders, stolen diamonds, lost heirs and a criminal mastermind.
  • Police Are Useless: The cops manage to completely miss the roll of film that rolled into a cabinet in the room where Nadina was found murdered.
  • Red Herring: Anne finds a roll of Kodak film in a cabinet in the room where Nadina was strangled. Excited, she takes it to be developed—and is told that it's unexposed film.
  • Rejecting the Inheritance: Harry ultimately decides to not take back his fortune and name as John Harold Eardsley, staying in Rhodesia with Anne instead.
  • Secretly Wealthy: Anne's boyfriend Harry isn't really Harry Lucas, he's John Harold Eardsley, heir to a fortune. He exchanged ID tags with the real Harry Lucas back in the war right before Lucas was killed, and he kept the secret from Anne because he wanted her to like him for himself.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The bulk of the novel is Anne's first-person narration, but there are also excerpts from Sir Eustace's diary which also move the plot along.
  • Title Drop: The newspapers dub the mysterious man seen leaving Sir Eustace's house "the man in the brown suit."
  • Upper-Class Twit: Sir Eustace Pedler, who throughout his diary sequences whines about how people keep bothering him and making him work. Subverted later when he is revealed to be the Colonel.
  • Villain Opening Scene: Starts with a third-person prologue in which Nadina the Russian dancer meets with a fake Russian count. They are both operatives who worked for the Colonel, and Nadina talks about how she is planning to blackmail the Colonel. The rest of the book is first person, either straight from Anne or from Sir Eustace's diary.