Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Man Not in the Brown Suit

Still on my Agatha Christie binge I recently read The Man in the Brown Suit for the I-don't-know-how-manyth-time.

Interestingly, while I skipped over his parts when I first read this book – younger and more interested in the ‘adventure’ part of the narrative - I’ve realised more and more as the years pass that it’s the inclusion of Sir Eustace Pedler’s diary which really makes this story. The adventure is cheerful silent-film-style nonsense (and must have suited its original serialisation beautifully), and Anne and her young man are the appropriate heroine and hero in that mould, but Pedler feels like a much richer character - something in the mould of Alan Clark (perhaps because I have also read Clark's diaries). Someone who could really exist.

According to Christie’s autobiography (which I read last month) Pedler is one of her very few characters based on an actual person - a friend called Major Belcher that she and her first husband took a long trip with and ended up fairly loathing after being thrown into close proximity living and working with the man.

A short-lived loathing though, because back in London when they had him round to visit they found (to their surprise) that they could properly enjoy his company again. Anyway he apparently insisted on being included in a book, and he seems to have been a good man at getting his own way (Christie describes him as a 'character') in this as well as everything else, because Suit is the book Christie put him in, although she is clear that the character Pedler became his own person on the page. 

Incidentally, and according to Wikipedia, the Times Literary Supplement reviewer apparently complained that there was no Poirot in the book - which given that Christie had only written four books at that point, and only 2 of them had Poirot in – seems to be a clear demonstration of how quickly the little Belgian became popular.

As Christie says of an evening out at the Palais de Danse with Archie to celebrate one of those early literary successes 'There was a third party with us, although I did not know it. Hercule Poirot, my Belgian invention, was hanging round my neck, firmly attached there like the old man of the sea.' 

A Cloud of Christies

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