This was the monthly “main” read in the Appointment with Agatha / Agatha Christie Centenary Celebration group read (my blog master post can be found HERE; the Goodreads group is HERE): Like almost all of Christie’s spy / political conspiracy novels, this won’t ever be one of my all-time favorite books by her — parts of the plot are decidedly over the top, and the heroine, Anne Beddingfeld, lacks the foil that Tuppence has in Tommy in terms of witty repartee –, but despite the odd TSTL moment (where Christie was probably bowing to the clichés / expectations of her time), I like Anne’s spunkiness, and I get a bit of a kick out of her best buddy Suzanne as well.
More importantly, though, having revisited the book for the first time after reading The Grand Tour, Agatha Christie’s letters and diaries from the 1922 British Empire Expedition (from which Christie returned almost exactly 2 years before this book was published), it’s really been driven home to what extent The Man in the Brown Suit is based on Christie’s own experience during the first (South Africa) leg of that tour. The 1922 “Grand Tour” of course features in her autobiography as well, but more cursorily and as seen from the distance of several decades; also, some of the details are muddled there — so while the autobiography, too, does suggest that the novel was inspired by Christie’s travel experience, it is really the immediacy and detail of her 1922 letters and journals, coupled with the same writerly exuberance as in Christie’s early fiction and in characters such as Tuppence Beresford and Anne Beddingfeld, that drives home just how much of Christie’s personal experience found its way into the book.
Not only is Anne (like Tuppence and a number of Christie’s other young heroines) almost certainly at least partly an incarnation of Agatha Christie herself — and shares the young Christie’s views on adventure, marriage, and women’s self-determination –; Anne’s experience in South Africa also comprises virtually everything that Christie herself experienced there, too, from surfing to the first view of Table Mountain, train journeys to then-Rhodesia [Zimbabwe], visits to plantations, Cecil Rhodes’s tomb, and the jungle, and finally being caught up in the March 1922 Rand Rebellion. Similarly, the character of Sir Eustace seems to be a superficially somewhat more sympathetic incarnation of Major Ernest Belcher, whom Christie found insufferable as a traveling companion (even if she seems to have made her peace with him later) — the leader of the “Grand Tour” party and manager of the 1924-25 Empire Exhibition, which in turn formed the background and inspiration of the “Grand Tour” … or at least Sir Eustace and Major Belcher share some of the same character traits, such as a certain amount of pomposity and being prone to fits of temper.