The Mysterious Affair at Styles: “The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as ‘The Styles Case’ has now somewhat subsided.”
Detective: Hercule Poirot
Published: 1920 (1st published book)
Published in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles is not only Agatha Christie’s first published novel but the first to introduce the reader to Hercule Poirot, her fastidious yet likeable Belgian detective whose mind nimbly gathers clues, deftly processes information and cunningly solves murders with style and aplomb.
In this mystery, Captain Hastings, invalided during WWI, is visiting his longtime friend, John Cavendish at Styles where he runs into Hercule Poirot who is a refugee from the war and is staying in the village of Styles St. Mary . Little does he know he will soon need the little detective’s assistance as Emily Inglethorp, John’s step-mother, is cruelly poisoned, the murderer using the merciless drug strychnine.
Why does Mary Cavendish, John’s wife, appear so uneasy? Why does Lawrence, John’s brother, give a ludicrous explanation of the death? Why is there a splash of candle grease on the carpet and a burnt fragment of paper in the fire? And why does Mrs. Inglethorp’s new husband admit to buying the strychnine, an admission that clearly places the burden of the guilt squarely upon him? A new will, a soundly sleeping girl, an argument overheard and a missing key all add up to a mystery more puzzling than anyone can solve. Except for Poirot who methodically follows the clues and pieces together a plan so dastardly that it makes one gasp for the audaciousness of it.
As a result of a bet, Christie set out to create a detective story in which the reader would be unable to guess the murderer even though he had the same clues as the detective. So could I spot the culprit? Not at all. The plot is indeed complex with many rabbit trails and dead ends that turn the reader in circles. Christie relied heavily on characters avoiding the truth or telling falsehoods to protect others but it was in the scope of normal life so it remained realistic. It was a fine example of a first novel and it’s no wonder that Christie became the queen of mystery novels.
I read this novel at the behest of Fanda and although I’m not officially participating in her Agatha Christie Perpetual Reading Challenge, I suppose with this first read complete and the second one, The Secret Adversary already on order from the library, you could colour me an unofficial participant. Thanks for the push, Fanda!