This week I am taking part in Karen and Simon‘s 1920 Club – a week dedicated to reading the literature of a particular year within the 20th Century. I can’t always take part in their celebrations, but do enjoy it when I have something in the 746 that corresponds to their chosen year.
And unsurprisingly, this is not the first time it has been an Agatha Christie novel!
It is, however, the first Agatha Christie novel. Published in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles features the first outing by everyone’s favourite Belgian – Hercule Poirot.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is narrated by Arthur Hastings. Recuperating on sick leave from the war, he is invited to stay at Styles in Essex, by his old friend John Cavendish. Not long after his arrival, he realises that Styles is a hotbed of resentments and arguments. John’s mother Emily Inglethorp has married a younger man and the family are sure he is only after her money, and their inheritance. Mrs Inglethorp has just fallen out with her longterm friend Evelyn Howard and tension is palpable between John and his enigmatic and attractive wife, who is spending a lot of time with a visiting scientist, who just happens to be an expert in posions.
Add into the mix Cynthia, a young ward of Mrs Ingleby and John’s sullen brother Lawrence and that makes a lot of people who are financially dependent on Emily, or would be a lot better off if she were no longer there.
Which is precisely what happens. When Emily Inglethorp is poisoned in the night inside an apparently locked room, suspision immediately falls on her new husband. However, help is at hand as Arthur has just happened to bump into his old friend Hercule Poirot and asks him to come to Styles and investigate further.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a brilliant introduction to this wonderful character. Hastings is a great foil – assuming himself to me somewhat of a master detective in his own right – when in fact Poirot is thinking rings round everyone!
Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little to one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible. I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandyfied little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police. As a detective, his flair had been extraordinary, and he achieved triumphs unravelling some of the most baffling cases of the day.
Given that there is a murder at the heart of this book, it is highly entertaining. There is a lot of warmth and humour here, particularly in the friendship between Hastings and Poirot. Poirot has a lot of fun keeping Hastings in the dark, or leading him up the wrong path, but it is clear that this is a friendship built ultimately on mutual respect. Hastings is in a position to see things that Poirot cannot, and as such, they make a great team.
In terms of the crime itself, and the solution to it, this certainly feels a bit clunkier and more convoluted that other smoother Christie conundrums, but you can’t fault Christie’s logic and her jigsaw puzzle plots are so seamlessly created as to throw the most observant reader off the scent.
This is literally a classic locked-room mystery and the denouement is ingenious, with every loose end tied up and filed away – it is plain to see why Christie’s career went from strength to strength. The Mysterious Affair At Styles introduces the reader to such a fantastic set of characters that it is impossible to not want to read more.
Read on: iBooks
Number Read: 258
Number Remaining: 488
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!