This is the second ever Hercule Poirot novel, and while I do enjoy him, I not the fan that a lot of people are. I find him really funny and interesting, and because I’ve read Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd which bookend this novel I was really interested in this one.
In addition, and I am not a historian at all, so this is purely anti-intellectual speculation, Agatha Christie’s first husband, the Christie of Christie, left her previous to the publication of this novel for a famous golfer (ala Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby) and I like to think this is the novel that spun out of that one.
For me, the most interesting thing going into any Agatha Christie novel and especially the Poirot ones is the immediate question of what kind of scope will the novel contain. In some, like The Mysterious Affair at Styles, this novel, or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the scope is small and intimate. In others like Murder on the Orient Express (direct setting notwithstanding) and Death on the Nile, the scope is much larger. This one precisely takes place on a golf course, but includes a broad and deep context we learn about a long time into the novel. I think this one is very good, and you can tell in the early novels she’s still in the process of hitting her strides and the characterization, the tone, and the irony is always great.
The Man in the Brown Suit
This is already one of my favorite of the Agatha Christie novels, and I am glad I hadn’t accidentally read another of the Colonel Race novels beforehand, so I didn’t know where it was heading as I read. The novel is about Anne Beddingfield, a young “orphan” who makes her way back to London and happens upon the scene of a crime. A man in a brown suit is seen in a tube station in conjunction with a dead body. As she investigates she is given a slip of paper directing her to a castle. This mystery then unfolds as she hears all about the pursuit of the man and gets on a boat to South African and Rhodesia. The bulk of the novel takes places on the ship where she’s quite certain she’s onboard with both the man in the brown suit, diamond smugglers, murderers and other people of intrigue. As she moves through the narrative, she constantly refers back to her own reading of mystery and adventures novels as her guides.
She’s also constantly warned by everyone aboard that she’s in way over her head. She falls in love with more than one man and is excited by whatever next steps this might bring. I like the amateur detectives better than the professional ones in Agatha Christie novels and like the non-Poirot novels more than the Poirot ones.
This is the final Agatha Christie Miss Marple novel. It was written in the 1940s and published posthumously. I recall a This American Life episode about Agatha Christie’s rumored dementia in her later years and how an English professor traced the word-choice diversity of early versus later texts and how there’s a decline that perhaps suggests proof of this dementia. And I couldn’t help look for this as I read this book. However, it turns out that this book was written decades before. So then I had to think about the themes of the novel, which are:
Let sleeping murders lie.
This is the anti-cold case novel. A young woman from New Zealand moves to a small seaside town in southern England. While in her new house, she gets strange premonitions — she can tell where an old door has been boarded up and painted over, she recalls an old wall paper now painted over and she’s disturbed. In a funny moment, she tells a man in town how she would hate to have psychic abilities.She meets Miss Jane Marple at a showing of Duchess of Malfi when a line from the play triggers her and she runs from the theater. Later in conversation with Miss Marple she realizes or guesses that she actually briefly lived in the house when she was a child and must have chosen to buy it out of some faded memory that she couldn’t quite discern. From there, she flashes back to what seems clearly to her a memory of a murder in the house. Miss Marple warns to perhaps let sleeping murders lie.
Well, she doesn’t, and it turns out that Miss Marple was write and they uncover a much more unpleasant and horrifying family history. This is one of the best of the Miss Marple books I think and a strong showing for Agatha Christie over all.