For some time now, I’ve been considering the possibility of paring down my library. To be frank, I have a bit of a fetish about books, craving not just quality but quantity. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten rid of a book bought for school; if I find a used bookstore or a book giveaway, you can bet I’ll need a mid-sized sedan to cart home all my booty. But, like many collectors, it’s raw acquisitveness that drives me. I doubt there’s anything else among my possessions that takes up so much space and yet sees so little use. I admit that I have a LOT of books that I have never gotten around to reading, and even more that I’ve read once and never opened again. I do, of course, have quite a few that I return to frequently, either to reread for pleasure or to consult for research. But given the premium on space in my apartment, some of these books may have to find a new home.
Thus, I’ve been slowly working my way through my store of pleasure reading, revisiting books that I’ve read before but can’t remember (or just barely) to see which, if any, I might want to keep and reread again and again, and which ones need to be relegated to the laundry-room lending library. This month’s offering is Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, a murder-mystery-cum-spy-novel-cum-romance that follows the adventures of cheeky young Anne Beddingfield as she becomes entangled in a diamond-smuggling conspiracy. The excitement-starved orphan is implicated in the intrigue by a chance encounter with a dying man in a subway station, and becomes determined to suss out the truth; she unwittingly finds herself falling in love with the prime suspect, and has a number of narrow escapes from danger.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a particular fan of Christie’s spy novels. They tend to be full of clichés, and the heroes are often both absurdly lighthearted and ridiculously lucky, allowing them to waltz in and out of life-threatening situations with over-the-top foreign villains. The less comedic spy novels (such as Passenger to Frankfurt or They Came to Baghdad) instead tend to become overly preachy, beating you over the head with their social criticism. In The Man in the Brown Suit, however, Christie manages to produce a story that is still enjoyable to read, in spite of its weaknesses. Improbably plotted and insistently clichéd, the novel nonetheless features a cast of compelling characters with whom the reader becomes absorbed. Unlike many of her other spy novels, this book is fast-paced and plot-driven, generating a momentum that keeps you reading past some of the rather melodramatic scenarios to find out the heart of the mystery and the fate of the love affair. Though not a classic that I’d return to time and again, I’ve enjoyed revisiting it one last time.