Published by Harper Collins
Publication date – (orginal publication year 1920)
Source – own copy
Beware! Peril to the detective who says: It is so small it does not matter Everything matters.’
After the Great War, life can never be the same again. Wounds need healing, and the horror of violent death banished into memory.
Captain Arthur Hastings is invited to the rolling country estate of Styles to recuperate from injuries sustained at the Front. It is the last place he expects to encounter murder. Fortunately he knows a former detective, a Belgian refugee, who has grown bored of retirement.
Captain Arthur Hastings is at Styles, recuperating from injuries sustained in the War. There he bumps into his old friend Hercule Poirot. Then a murder occurs at Styles. Luckily for Hastings, his old friend Poirot happens to be a retired detective…
As Julie Andrews once sang, let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start. So this then is the very first novel from the pen of Agatha Christie. At Styles we are introduced to Captain Hastings, the narrator of the tale. He soon bumps into his old friend Hercule Poirot, a curious looking man, who is now a retired from the Belgian police force. When the mother of his host at Styles, Mrs Inglethorp, is found murdered, Poirot is happily drawn from retirement to investigate the case, much to the initial chagrin of Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard.
We read the story through the eyes of Captain Hastings, drawn into the red herrings that he himself at times creates, through misunderstanding or lack of insight. We are introduced to Poirot, read the description of his egg shaped head and waxed moustaches, his peculiar way of walking and his fastidiousness. Poirot is kept at a little distance though the seeds are sown for his character to develop further in later stories.
I started this book already aware of who the murderer was. I read the book many years ago but my memories of the story are now from the TV adaptation. I was eager to see how the story differed from the screen and to see how the clues were laid out in the pages. My enjoyment was not altered by the fact I knew who the culprit was. In fact I enjoyed looking out for the clues to see if I could spot the false leds and the real hints at who did it. The mystery is engaging. Who could have poisoned Mrs Inglethorp? Things take a turn when the most likely culprit appears to have been unable to carry out the deed.
There are a whole host of characters but this is very much a closed room mystery. The murder takes place at a country house. There are a finite number of suspects, all with different reasons for possibly committing murder. It is this, that perhaps now lends a cosy feel to the stories. However, written at the time, the story would have been a commentary on the treatment of soldiers, the mistrust of foreigners after the war, and the new social order awakening as a result of women’s roles during the conflict, and their glimpse at life outside the home.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is an engaging, entertaining murder mystery. The first of 88 novels, plays and short stories, it introduced the world to the wonders of Agatha Christie and still entertains nearly 100 years later.