Monday, 8 August 2011

The Man in the Brown Suit

The mood of melancholy continued to prevail. I had enjoyed an early (1924) Agatha Christie novel made into a film for TV in 1988, The Man in the Brown Suit.

According to Wikipedia the story of the novels is as follows

“Nadina, a "Russian" dancer receives a visit in her dressing room from Count Sergius Paulovitch. Both are in the service of a man they call "the Colonel", an international agent provocateur and criminal. After many years, 'the Colonel' is retiring, leaving his agents high and dry. Nadina has double-crossed the Colonel, however, keeping some De Beers diamonds from a crime years before. She now plans to blackmail the Colonel with the diamonds.

Anne Beddingfeld, a young English woman recently orphaned, longs for adventure and jumps at the chance when her father's solicitor suggests she lives with him and his wife in London. Returning from an unsuccessful job interview, Anne is on the platform at Hyde Park Corner tube station when a man falls onto the live track, dying instantly. A doctor examines the man, pronounces him dead and leaves, dropping a note on his way. Anne picks up the note which reads "17.1 22 Kilmorden Castle".

The inquest on the dead man, 'L. B. Carton', brings a verdict of suicide. In his pocket was a house agent's order to view a house for let – The Mill House in Marlow – and the next day the newspapers report that a dead woman has been found there – strangled. The house is owned by Sir Eustace Pedler MP. A young man in a brown suit is identified as a suspect, having entered the house soon after the dead woman.

Anne realizes the 'doctor' did not examine the dead man in an appropriate manner and gets suspicious. After fruitless investigations at Mill House where she finds an undeveloped canister of film, Anne finds out that Kilmorden Castle is the name of a boat sailing on 17 January 1922 from Southampton to Cape Town. She books a passage on it.

On board ship, Anne meets Suzanne Blair, Colonel Race, and Sir Eustace Pedler himself. In addition to his normal secretary, Guy Pagett, he has employed a man who goes by the name of Harry Rayburn.

At 1.00am on the morning of the 22nd, a young man staggers into Anne's cabin having been stabbed. Anne is able to dress the man's slight wound but the man is not in the least bit grateful and leaves after an altercation with her.

One evening on the ship, Colonel Race recounts a story of the theft of a hundred thousand pounds' worth of diamonds some years before, supposedly by the son of the South African gold magnate, John Eardsley and his friend Lucas. John and his friend were arrested but John's father, Sir Laurence, disowned his son. John Eardsley was killed in the War and his father's huge fortune passed to a next of kin. Lucas was posted as "missing in action". Harry Rayburn walks into the cabin as the story is being told, overhears it, looks sickly and leaves. Race reveals he himself is the fortunate next of kin.

Anne confides in Suzanne and they examine the piece of paper Anne obtained in the Underground station. They realize that the paper could refer to cabin 71 – Suzanne's cabin, originally booked by a Mrs Grey, a pseudonym for Nadina. Anne and Suzanne speculate that Nadina was the dead woman in the Mill House. Anne suddenly connects finding the film roll in Mill House with a canister of returned film that was dropped into Suzanne's cabin on night of the 22nd. They look in the canister and find uncut diamonds. They speculate that Harry Rayburn is the "Man in the Brown Suit".

Anne is attacked as she walks the deck of the ship. Harry Rayburn saves her. Anne amazes Harry with her knowledge of events in Marlow and at Hyde Park Corner station and suggests that Harry may be Lucas and the "Man in the Brown Suit". They again part on bad terms.

Once they arrive in Cape Town Anne is lured to a house at Muizenberg, where she is imprisoned in the attic by a bearded Dutchman. Anne overhears the Rev. Chichester speaking with the Dutchman about "the Colonel" wanting to question her tomorrow. The next day she escapes and makes her way back to Cape Town.

There she finds that Harry is wanted as the "Man in the Brown Suit" but has gone missing. Pedler offers Anne the role of his secretary on the train trip to Rhodesia, which she accepts at the last second, and is reunited with Race, Suzanne and Pedler, who has a new secretary named Miss Pettigrew.

In Bulawayo, Anne receives a note from Harry which lures her out to a ravine near their hotel. There she is chased and falls into the ravine.

Almost a month later, Anne awakens in a hut on an island in the Zambezi with Harry Rayburn, who rescued her. He reveals that someone deliberately caused her to fall.

Anne and Harry fall in love. Harry tells her of the diamond discovery he and John Eardsley made years earlier. They were duped by a young woman called Anita Grünberg, who substituted their diamonds for ones stolen from De Beers. After being listed as missing in action, Harry disappeared, coming to Africa under the name of Harry Parker.

Some time later he came across a man – Carton - and recognised him from the incident with Anita Grünberg. Carton is revealed to be the man who fell in the Tube station and dropped the note Anne found. Harry followed Carton to London and Nadina to the Mill House, but insists Nadina was already dead. He realised that the diamonds were probably still on the Kilmorden Castle. Anne confirms they were, and were handed to Suzanne in her cabin on the night of the 22nd.

Harry's island is attacked that night by a party led by the red-bearded Dutchman, but the two manage to escape and Anne plans to return to Pedler's party where she can keep an eye on developments. They exchange codes to be used in order that neither can be duped again.

Reunited with Suzanne, Anne is told that the diamonds are with luggage sent on with Sir Eustace. She also receives a telegram from Harry telling her to meet him.

Anne goes to the meeting with Harry and again bumps into Chichester, alias Miss Pettigrew. She is led to Sir Eustace, alias "the Colonel". Pedler forces Anne to write a note to Harry to lure him to the curio shop, which she does but she does not include their code in it. Harry turns up and Pedler is exultant – until Anne pulls out a pistol and they capture Pedler. Race turns up with reinforcements and Pedler tries to bluff matters out, but is unsuccessful.

Sir Eustace manages to escape. Anne is somewhat pleased, having developed a fondness for him. Race tells her that Harry is in fact John Eardsley, not Lucas, and therefore the heir to the fortune. Harry however has found his happiness with Anne, and they marry and live on the island in the Zambezi.”

Now apart from the having the same characters, diamonds and a boat voyage on craft called the Kilmorden Castle and some other basic story similarities, the setting and environment are changed for the film.

The main character Anne Beddingfeld and a female friend have been on holiday in Egypt and are at the airport with Anne complaining about their lack of adventure when she finds a man in Brown suit bending over a murder victim and then rushing off leaving her to hold a piece of paper on which is written and two other numbers plus Modern Castle. Because she is found looking over the deceased she is taken into custody while her friend returns home. Anne is then released with the help of a Gordon Race who insists that she takes the first plane out rather than stay to find out what happened and why. Anne sees a newspaper which reveals that another person has died at the villa of a Sir Eustace Pedler who was away at the time as was his secretary making a separate trip. The murdered woman was a well known night club singer and the man at the airport was with her (cannot remember the nature of their relationship).

Anne works out that Kilmorden Castle is a small ship with different levels of accommodation and she has sufficient funds after cashing in the airline ticket to take steerage class, a cabin without a porthole. On board she finds in the first class area with Sir Eustace Pedler played by Edward Woodward, and his secretary who he bullies, and Gordon Race together with a suspicious looking clergyman the Rev Edward Chichester and a much married (3 times) lady who knows Mr Race.

Developing a friendship with this older woman Anne finds herself in first class cabin 7 where she finds the man the brown suit at some point who then rescues her as an attempt is made to throw her overboard.

Eventually the story unfolds although I remain confused about certain aspects. The main villain is the Colonel who is eventually revealed as Sir Eustace Pedler. He has arranged for the Rev Chichester, one of his agents to attempt to kill Anne on the ship and then when they take a detour off the ship by train to visit some falls. He also plays the secretary when the actual secretary returns to Cairo and also a nurse on the boat.

The reason for the attempted killings is the correct assumption that Anne has discovered the whereabouts of four large pink diamonds hidden behind tiles in cabin 71 which was booked by the man murdered at the airport for his companion the night club singer. They were involved in attempting to blackmail the colonel who had been involved with the theft of diamonds from a mine in South Africa.

The man in the brown suit is someone believed to have died in South America, the son of landed aristocracy and the companion who disappeared at the same time. Both men had been accused of the theft of the diamonds stolen by the Colonel and as his true self John Eardsley, son of the recently deceased Sir Laurence Eardsley is thought to be the other young man Harry Rayburn. By recovering the diamonds he can clear his name and that of his friend, return to England to inherit his title and marry Ann who had had enough adventuring for a lifetime. Woodward is apprehended and Race who turns out to be CIA marries the already much married friend of Anne. The reason why the Colonel is unmasked as having been responsible for the villa murder is that his secretary who was supposed to have gone on a trip had in fact being visiting his wife and children as being single was a condition of the job and he had seen the colonel return when he was also supposed to be away. There were lots of twists and turns and actions with Anne captured and breaking out of a high barred window.

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