Monday, April 15, 2019

The Man in the Brown Suit (Spoilerific Review)

The Man in the Brown Suit (1924): 

Pretty, young Anne came to London looking for adventure. In fact, adventure comes looking for her—and finds her immediately at Hyde Park Corner tube station. Anne is present on the platform when a thin man, reeking of mothballs, loses his balance and is electrocuted on the rails. The Scotland Yard verdict is accidental death. But Anne is not satisfied. After all, who was the man in the brown suit who examined the body? And why did he race off, leaving a cryptic message behind: "17-122 Kilmorden Castle"?

I am currently on a mission to reread Agatha Christie's work in order of publication. Having just started this year, I'm up to The Man in the Brown Suit. I first reviewed this one back during my first full year of blogging (pre- most of my challenges); nearly at the same time of year, in fact--March. If you'd like to see my thoughts at the time or a little more complete synopsis of the plot, then please click on the title. I'm not going to rehash the plot here. Instead, I'm going to look a little deeper at a point (that is a major spoiler--and could possibly spoil another Christie title) that struck me during this reading that just passed me by in previous readings. So, if by chance you've not read this particular Christie novel and haven't read all her big titles, by which I mean the highly recognized titles that break/bend the Golden Age rules of detection a bit, then you might want to give this review a miss.

First off, before we get to the spoiling bits, I'd just like to say that I enjoyed the novel much more this time round. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it last time--I did--I just wasn't as enthusiastic about it as say, Yvette over at In So Many Words (who said so in the comments of that previous review). Perhaps I was in a more adventuresome mood this year. But I thoroughly enjoyed Anne's sense of adventure and longing for excitement after being cooped up with her father for so many years.

But on to the spoils of reading....What struck me so forcibly during this reading was Christie's use of the unreliable "narrator" in the extracts from Sir Eustace Pedler's diary. It is an early version of her "breaking" the very first of Father Ronald Knox's Ten Commandments of GAD rules:

The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know. [emphasis mine]

Of course she bent this same rule with even more abandon in one of her most highly recognizable titles--resulting in some criticism from mystery fans (and fellow authors) over her rule-breaking. Dorothy L. Sayers came to her defense, saying that "It is the reader's job to suspect everybody." And much has been made (again, in her defense) that there are clear breaks in the narrative and enough ambiguous language to indicate that we haven't been shown all of the criminal's thoughts.

This happens again with Sir Eustace and his diary. Readers zip along in the narrative, reading the diary excerpts in between Anne's narrative and, generally, accepting the two parallel stories at face value. But Christie (through Sir Eustace) goes out of her way to tell us that he really shouldn't be trusted. He admits to wanting to make up stories in the memoirs that he's writing but his secretary, Guy Pagett, keeps a firm grip on the truth and prevents him. Of course, we should be aware that Pagett probably doesn't oversee the personal diary entries in quite the same way--but it doesn't (or at least it didn't occur to me the first time I read it). He also tells us that while we may learn things (possibly disreputable) about other people, he's certainly not going to be indiscreet and allow readers of his memoirs--or, presumably, his diary--to learn disreputable things about him. 

A diary is useful for recording the idiosyncrasies of other people—but not one’s own.

Another tip-off that I missed the first time around. But then, as crafty as Christie was, there was nothing to prevent her from playing a double-bluff and creating a totally different, and for purposes of the crime totally innocent secret for Sir Eustace to keep out of the diary.

Great fun and even more enjoyable because of my sudden epiphany over the diary. ★★★★

All Challenges Fulfilled: Calendar of Crime, Medical Examiner, Just the Facts, Mount TBR Challenge, Color Coded Challenge, Century of Books, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, Mystery Reporter, How Many Books, Six Shooter

Calendar of Crime: Jan = events
Just the Facts: diary excerpts
Deaths: one fell on electric train tracks; one strangled

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