The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

My First Affair with Hercule Poirot

(A Book Review of Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affairs at Styles)

Written as an outcome of a bet in which “the reader would not be able to spot the criminal”, Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair of Styles, published in 1921, is the first published work by the author that not only introduces what will become her trademark for ingenious plotting as well as the egg-shaped head, quirky and well-groomed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, one of the beloved sleuths in the annals of crime fiction.

Set during the First World War, the novel opens when the narrator, Lieutenant Arthur Hastings, gets an invitation from his friend John Cavendish to spend his time recuperating from his war wounds at the latter’s manor located at Style’s Court. However, Arthur’s peaceful retreat is cut short when the estate’s aging heiress, Emily Inglethorp, recently married to a man twenty years younger than her, was found lethally poisoned. It is on a chance encounter at the town when Arthur seeks the aid of his friend Hercule Poirot who is now living as a refugee along with few of his countrymen at the English countryside. Suddenly called out of his retirement, the former police inspector lends his investigating prowess to solve a case with no small supply of suspects where the puzzling pieces of clues includes the disappearance of a coffee cup supposed to have contained the poison, a burned piece of a will, an inexplicable piece of cloth, an odd rug stain on top of the victim’s room being locked from the inside!

Finishing the entire Sherlock Holmes canon — comprising of four novels and fifty six short stories — made me appreciate and develop a partiality to the classical works in detective fiction; I have never looked at the genre the same way again. Truth be told, I’m still experiencing what I call “Sherlockian withdrawal symptoms”, and maybe it’s because of it that I determined to explore the next best thing mystery books have to offer wherein no other name dominates than that of Dame Agatha Christie, Queen of Crime.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles proves to have what I’m looking or long for in a detective novel. It incorporates some of the elements of storytelling that have been the cornerstone of the genre, notable of which is the smart detective with razor-sharp logic with a few peculiarities thrown in. Christie is aware of the fact that no one can definitely copy the Great Detective right off the bat; still, it couldn’t be denied that Poirot and Sherlock do have one or two similar traits. Even so, the author manages to make his creation lay his own claim in the vast whodunit turf. At times Poirot can be quite annoying and frustrating with some of his antics, thru his hints or “little ideas”, that gives away little or none on how he would solve the case, but he can also be quite charming and funny infecting the reader with his exuberance — sudden Belgian-French utterances included!

Agatha Christie at the age of 22

Agatha Christie uses all the trappings of the crime fiction of her times — clearly with its locked room mystery and death-by-poison plot the novel is ordinary fare of the genre by today’s standards — taking a page from Sir Athur Conan Doyle’s especially in the manner of narration where the events and details of the case are chronicled by the detective’s associate a la Dr. John H. Watson which in this book is recounted by Lieutenant Arthur Hastings. From the way I see it, Christie may have took it too far principally in how much identical Watson and Hasting’s circumstances are at the beginning of the novel. From the way I see it, Christie may have took it too far principally in how much identical Watson and Hasting’s circumstances are at the beginning of the book. However, don’t let this put you off from picking this book as the genius of Christie lies  in devising the narration — countering and complementing this seemingly act of imitation — as a motif of misdirection interspersing the tale with clues, red herrings, and circumstantial evidences to encourage the reader to draw his own deductions or consider other incidents and possibilities aside from what the narrator presents. To those who don’t want to flex their brains to figure out the twist before it gets revealed and just want to go along for the ride and entertained, the author indeed serves up a case that will truly make it hard for anyone to identify the reader until the final pages. The Dame really likes to make a fool out of her reader, and believe me when I say so as this experience made look back when I first read And Then There Were None.

With the publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, critics stated Agatha Christie to have began´”The Golden Age of Detective Fiction”, and scant though my readings in this filed is, it’s a well-deserved recognition for the writers debut novel is not also a hard case to crak, it’s also a tough act to follow. Presently, this is just the second book I have read from the Queen of Crime, and already wide vistas are opening up right before me: if the first two I’ve encountered thus far is such an engrossing read, what more of the others to follow? With over eighty or so books published under her name, Agatha Christie may well prove the cure for my “Sherlockian withdrawals” I’ve been looking for — or maybe another detective to go crazy over.

 

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Book Details:
Book #51 for 2012
Published by Dover
(Trade Paperback)
153 pages
Started: September 26, 2012
Finished: September 30, 2012
My Rating:

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