The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Posted: September 20, 2021 in Book reviews

By Agatha Christie

Towards the end of the First World War, the household of Styles Court is rocked by the death of its elderly owner, Emily Inglethorp. It is quickly ascertained that she has been poisoned with strychnine and suspicion immediately falls upon her younger husband, Alfred.

Staying at the house is Arthur Hastings, a solider recuperating away from the Western Front. Hastings had recently discovered that his friend, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, is living in the nearby village, having arrived in England as a refugee. Hastings asks Poirot for his help in solving the crime, though he feels the detective may be past his prime.

Poirot begins his investigation, but there are numerous suspects, and it will take all his powers of deduction to solve the crime.

And at the ripe old age of 50 I decided to read my very first Agatha Christie novel. I’m not sure why I waited so long. In part I had a fear that I would find her prose stuffy, and I thought perhaps it would be all terribly polite and staid. And in truth I’ve always been more interested in the hardboiled detective who solves the crime by shoe leather and determination rather than deductive reasoning. Also given I have several friends who are huge Christie fanatics I was wary of not enjoying her work!

 The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the perfect place to start, being Christie’s very first novel, and thusly the first appearance of Poirot, although it seems apparent that Christie’s style will evolve and improve, and if this is the case then I look forward to reading more of her novels, because I enjoyed this one and if they only get better then I’ll definitely keep reading!

Christie’s prose, even in her first book, is top notch, incredibly descriptive yet not so bogged down in detail that it’s remotely a chore to read. There are myriad characters, yet I rarely got any of them confused, everyone is distinct with their own foibles and characteristics. Hastings’ description of Mary, for example, is joyfully poetic. Poirot leaps off the page from the off, this curious little Belgian. His age isn’t clear but given Hastings had worked with him in the early 1900s he’s obviously no spring chicken (given how many Poirot novels she’ll go onto write I understand Christie will keep his age nebulous.)

Any fears I had about prudishness were soon tossed out of the window as well, there’s extramarital affairs and some quite near the knuckle (for the time) commentary. Plus there’s something awfully ‘today’ about Poirot being a refugee.

Hastings is a trifle dull, and the fact that we only see things from his perspective is a tad annoying. In particular the way Poirot keeps things from him rankles a little. It’ll be interesting to see how Christie manages the plot when writing in the third person.

In terms of the murder itself, halfway through I thought I had it all figured out. I was wholly wrong, which is a good sign, although Christie does keep some things hidden most of the clues are right in front of you. It’s a little convoluted, and some clues are very tenuous, but again I understand Christie dials this down a little going forward.

Suffice to say it won’t be another 50 years before I read Agatha Christie again!

  1. Mim says:

    I do like a good Christie – and now you’ve started reading them, you’ve a lot to get through!

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