Anne Beddingfield, newly orphaned, is in search of adventure, and she finds it when a terrified man falls onto an Underground line. A scrap of paper from the dead man’s pocket reading “1 7.1 22 Kilmorden Castle” takes her on a trip to South Africa. En route she meets the Man in the Brown Suit, but can he be trusted? Can any of her new friends be relied upon and is one of them the mysterious “Colonel”?
Anne’s narrative is interspersed with extracts from Sir Eustace Pedler’s diary, and the contrast of voices is very convincing. A real page-turning thriller, with a touch of the Mills & Boon – not that I’ve read any but the reference to Sheik-cum-Stone-Age love making is what I expect features in such books.
As with “The Secret Adversary” I enjoyed re-reading this as part of my project, but don’t know whether I would read again.
Signs of the Times
Based on the days and dates quoted, the story is set in 1925, one year after publication.
De Beer’s diamonds play a significant part in the plot. De Beers was founded in 1888 by Cecil Rhodes and until the early 21st century had a virtual monopoly over the international diamond market. Rhodes (1853 – 1902) was a businessman and politician who had a huge impact on the history of Southern Africa. His legacy is highly controversial to this day as shown by the “Rhodes Must Fall” protests at universities in South Africa, the UK, and the USA.
Anne enjoys a weekly episode of “The Perils of Pamela” at the cinema. In real life, there were similar series called “The Perils of Pauline” and “The Exploits of Elaine”, both made in 1914 and then repeated through the 1920s.
When speaking of a trip to Africa, Anne’s father refers to “Cook’s”. Thomas Cook founded a company with his own name in 1841 to carry temperance supporters between English towns by railway. In 1855 he organised tours to Europe and in 1866 to the USA. Many changes of name and ownership have occurred and today it is called Thomas Cook AG and is owned by the German company C&N Touristic AG.
Down Street underground station is referred to. This was situated between Hyde Park Corner and Dover Street (now Green Park) and was closed in 1932.
When trying to find Kilmorden Castle, Anne refers to “Whitaker” and a Gazetteer. The former is an almanac, published annually since 1868, the latter a geographical dictionary or directory to be used in conjunction with an atlas.
Anne receives a roll of Kodak films. Kodak were founded in 1888 and for most of the 20th century were the dominant player in the photographic industry, until they were late in switching to digital, going bankrupt in 2012. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2013 and now focuses on business printing.
Sir Eustace is asked to deliver some documents personally to General Smuts. Jan Smuts (1870 – 1950) was Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa 1919 – 1924 and 1939 – 1948.
Crippen is mentioned as being a charming murderer, caught on an ocean liner. Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen fled London in 1910 under suspicion of having murdered his wife. He was recognised by the captain of the SS Montrose, who sent a wireless telegram back to London before his ship sailed outside the range of its transmitter. Inspector Walter Dew of Scotland Yard overtook Crippen by travelling on the faster SS Laurentic, and arrested him on his arrival in Canada. He was found guilty of murder and executed later that year.
Sir Eustace has read “The Upper Berth”. This is an 1886 short story by F. Marion Crawford about a haunted ship’s cabin.
Diamonds may have been found by two young men in British Guiana. This country had been settled by the Dutch in 1616 before coming under British control in 1796. Independence was gained in 1966 and the country’s name became Guyana.
The term “Kafir” (more commonly Kaffir) is used, which originally was used to refer to black Africans, with no negative connotations (inasmuch as that can be said to be possible of a term created by one group and used by them to refer to another group). It is now recognised as being extremely offensive, and has been actionable under South African law since 1976.
Reference is made to a speech by Tylman Roos. Tielman Roos (1879 – 1935) was the South African Justice Minister (1924 – 1929).
They travel from Cape Town through Bechuanaland to Rhodesia. The Protectorate of Bechuanaland was established by the British in 1885 and became the independent country of Botswana in 1966. The territory of Southern Zambezia became known as Southern Rhodesia, in honour of Cecil Rhodes (see above), in 1895. Eventually the country gained full independence in 1980 as Zimbabwe.
Vintage Reading Challenge
Fulfils “What – Colour in the title”
I love the fact that Pagett’s mysterious secret is so inconsequential and that he is so worried about the consequences of having been seen in Marlow, that he doesn’t for a minute question what Sir Eustace was doing there around the time of the murder. I also enjoyed the late reveal that Minks/Chichester/Pettigrew was also the Count from the Prologue.
There is also the teaser throughout as to whether Colonel Race is the “Colonel” as part of a huge double-bluff – on his part at choosing a nickname that was his actual rank, and on Christie’s part of it being so obvious that it couldn’t possibly be the case – or could it? I’m fairly sure that the first time I read this, I’d already come across Race – that is one of the definite advantages of reading a series in order, as often someone who becomes a recurring character, has been under suspicion in their first appearance.
The use of the diaries is a nice touch, as it seems like a familiar literary device of a secondary character being able to fill in gaps in the primary narrative e.g. Doctor Livesey in “Treasure Island”, but as it is a diary, the reader should have been wary. The diarist is normally just writing for themselves, and therefore it will be an incomplete account. They aren’t deliberately misleading anyone, because they don’t expect it to be read.