Name: The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Author: Agatha Christie
Number of Pages: 304 (Paperback)
Published: June 4th 2004 by HarperCollins (Originally published 1920)
Genre: Mystery, Crime
The famous case that launched the career of Hercule Poirot. When a wealthy heiress is murdered, Poirot steps out of retirement to find the killer. As the master detective makes his way through the list of suspects, he finds the solution in an elaborately planned scheme almost impossible to believe. – from Goodreads
I’ve just finished reading my second Poirot novel. All this started after I watched the new Murder on the Orient Express movie and wondered how the book would compare. Cutting a long story short, I enjoyed that book so much I knew I wanted to read more, so I ventured back to the very beginning, and if you read no further than this, all you need to know is once again I’ve been left wondering how on earth I missed Agatha Christie’s work for so long, and how much I have to read now.
Originally published in 1920 The Mysterious Affair at Styles introduces Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, a former policeman and refugee who, through the kindness of Mrs Inglethorp finds himself residing at Leastways Cottage with a group of fellow refugees.
There is treachery afoot at Styles and when Mrs Inglethorp dies in suspicious circumstances Poirot is called in by his friend Hastings to investigate.
The foreword to the novel mentions that Christie’s sister bet that Agatha couldn’t write a detective story, and so that’s exactly what she set out to do. Having worked in a hospital dispensary, she already had knowledge of various poisons, which came in handy in writing the story.
It was a long road to eventual publication, and the original ending was changed. The edition I read features the original abandoned ending in an appendix, so it was interesting to get the chance to read both versions, which came to the same conclusion via a slightly different location/method.
There are a number of potential suspects at Styles, all of them apparently hiding something, so, with plenty of motives and opportunities there’s certainly a mystery to unravel in this tale. I liked all the main characters, they seemed really well fleshed-out, but on to the leads…
This is the first time I’ve met Hastings, and I loved his narration of events at Styles. His conversational observations, his dream aspiration to be a detective, the way he assumes this or that. I had a definite image in mind of Hastings just from the book as I’ve never seen the character in any other adaptation (isn’t it amazing what can pass you by).
As Hastings makes his own theories and guesses, often overlooking all that Poirot hints and tells him is so obvious (must be his little grey cells that make him see what the rest of us miss) it leaves us free to solve the mystery along with Hastings. For once I hadn’t seen an adaptation of this story so I had no idea whodunnit. I guessed, I was wrong. What more can I say? Perhaps my skills as amateur detective will improve as I read more of these books. Or, maybe not…
And there’s Poirot himself. What a character. Calm and intelligent, patient to sift through the details and find what most people have overlooked, yet quick to a temper if he’s missed something, and not above causing a scene, going around shouting or running off down the drive in an excited state leaving people wondering what on earth is going on.
I love the time period in which the story is set, the grand old house, full of secrets, full of suspects, the lack of modern technology making it necessary to seek out clues and piece them together amidst red herrings, deceptive characters and actual facts. Given that the book was written almost 100 years ago it doesn’t feel that dated, lack of modern tech aside. I think I actually prefer this bygone-era approach to crime solving, it really kept me guessing.
The only thing I’m really left wondering – are all the books this good? So far I’ve enjoyed each one, they’re such a change from my usual reading. I can’t imagine it will be long before I’m picking up another book in the Poirot series.