Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Mysterious Affair at Styles: Review

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie is the first novel to feature Hercule Poirot. And, although Hastings has met the great detective in the past, this is apparently the first time that he has played Watson. Hastings is home on medical leave from the Great War and is invited by his old friend John Cavendish to spend his recovery time at the family's country home, Styles. Cavendish tells his friend, "I'm afraid you'll find it very quiet down here, Hastings." And Hastings assures him, "My dear fellow, that's just what I want." Unfortunately, it's not going to be quiet for long...

John's step-mother Emily Inglethorpe has recently been remarried to a much younger man. Alfred Inglethorpe has not been welcomed to the family bosom. The stepsons (John and Lawrence) don't think much of their step-papa, the servants all think Mrs. Inglethorpe has married beneath her, and even the man's own cousin, Mrs. Inglethorpe's beloved companion Evelyn Howard, believes he married Emily for her money. It isn't any surprise then that when Emily Inglethorpe dies of strychnine poisoning that suspicion immediately falls on Alfred. 

In the meantime, Hastings has run across Poirot in the village. Poirot is one of several Belgian refugees from the war in Europe whom Mrs. Inglethorpe has helped to resettle. When tragedy strikes, Hastings convinces John to call upon the retired member of the Belgian police. The household is astonished when Poirot produces evidence of an alibi for Alfred and the hunt is on to discover who else might have had a motive to do away with the elderly lady.

This is not my first reading of Agatha Christie's first mystery novel. It is, however, the first time I have read it in over 30 years. And, I have to say, she did it again. Christie is one of the few detective novelists who can--if it has been long enough since I last read the book--manage to pull the wool over my eyes more than once. She is a master of misdirection and even in her debut novel, she is quite good at making the reader look at this when they really ought to be looking at that. Needless to say--I spent too much time looking at this. I am about as swift off the mark as Hastings. 

It was quite enjoyable to go back to the beginning and start reading the novels again. My first reading of Christie was rather haphazard--I read whatever title came my way in whatever order I found them. I've now committed myself to a reread of her work in publication order. I am looking forward to seeing how her writing develops over time and which tropes she reuses (and how effectively each time).  ★★★★

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1 comment:

Phinnea Ravenscroft said...

I was the same. Christie was one of my first grown-up authors, so I read whatever I found in the library or cheap at a book sale. Somewhere between a quarter and half of her oeuvre before I stopped. Then about 5 years ago, I decided to read or reread all her works in order. It got me out of a reading slump and there were darned few I remembered whodunnit. For some reason, I still haven't read Death Comes as the End. I think in another 10 years I could happily do it again.