I discovered Agatha Christie when I was 11 years old. My friend Veronica’s sister, Salomé, was a fan and she loaned me her first Hercule Poirot book, The Mysterious Affair At Styles (which is, by the way, one of her best books). I fell in love with the book, Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie immediately. I had read some mysteries before, notably a children’s edition of Sherlock Holmes, Poe’s Auguste Dupin stories and several short detective stories from a book my parents had (my favorite being Frutelle’s The Problem of Cell 13 – it’s been thirty years and I haven’t forgotten this spellbinding story). I liked the genre already, but Agatha Christie was something else altogether. Over the years I have read hundreds of mysteries, but none can compare to the ones she wrote: well crafted, logical and organized, providing all the necessary clues for the reader to come up with the solution. From the age of 11 to 14, I bought and read all her books (and I think there are over 80 of them). They were sold in cheap paperback editions at corner newspaper stands, and my aunt Gladys was generous enough to indulge my obsession and get them for me.
I have to admit that I liked every single mystery that Agatha Christie wrote (I never read her romance novels), but I do have my favorites (among them Cards on the Table, The Seven Dials Mystery and Cat Among the Pigeons). My favorite of all, however, is probably The Man in the Brown Suit – which is as much a mystery as a romance.
It involves a young girl with a thirst for adventure who decides to go after a master criminal and in the midst of this falls head over hills in love over the prime suspect. It’s one of Agatha’s Christie’s earliest works, published in 1924, and it differs from the mostly formulaic mysteries she later wrote in several ways. For one, the book is an adventure as much as a story of detection. For another, the story is actually told mostly in first person by the female protagonist. I don’t know if Christie ever had a female narrator again.
As a fourteen year old, I have to admit that I loved the spunky and daring female protagonist and her manly and strong love interest. This book, along with They Came to Baghdad, helped me realize that young women could go on on their own and explore the world. I can’t say that I’ve had much adventure in my life (so far), but I did manage to travel quite a bit in my youth.
I just re-read the book after two and a half decades, and I was struck by the similarities between women back then and women now. Christie’s female characters are always strong, smart, independent and have free will. They also embrace their sexuality. We tend to think that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were chaste virgins with little thought of sex, but that’s not at all how Christie saw women – and that is refreshing.
I’m not a big reader of romance, but I think after this book I may look up one or two of her romance stories.