Over the Christmas holiday I read the classic, cosy crime The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, which had been waiting patiently on my Kindle for some time. And, I am really glad I did because I found it the perfect antidote to all of the crazy busyness of the festive period.
This is actually the first mystery to feature Agatha Christie’s most famous and long-lived characters: Hercule Poirot. A small, eccentric Belgian detective who features in thirty-three of Christie’s novels and fifty of her short stories. Previously I have watched and loved many of the TV adaptations starring the wonderful David Suchet, but sadly I had only read one of the original novels Murder on the Orient Express, that was all the way back in 2013 if you can believe it. So I was thrilled to finally get round to reading another and luck would have it that it was the very first.
Poirot’s first mystery opens in England during World War I, when Arthur Hastings – a character we will come to know very well in this series – is invited by his good friend John Cavendish to Styles Court; the family seat out in the Essex countryside. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Hastings, an old friend Hercule Poirot has settled with a small group of other Belgian refugees in the village nearby, with the support of the wealthy widow Emily Cavendish. In fact Emily, the late Mr Cavendish’s second wife, inherited Styles for life as well as the majority of the fortune, trumping her stepsons John and Lawrence.
During his visit Hastings comes to meet all the eclectic inhabitants of Styles, which includes: Emily, her stepsons John and Lawrence, John’s glamorous wife Mary, Emily’s forthright companion Evelyn Howard, and finally Cynthia Murdoch, the poor relation. Things were well with the family but recently tensions and suspicions have risen since Emily chose to marry the much younger Alfred Inglethorp, and it no huge surprise for the reader when Emily dies in suspicious circumstances. With a locked room death and a list of possible suspects longer than his arm, Hastings calls upon Poirot to help solve the matter, before the family are all put through the rumour mill.
I found it really lovely to go back to where it all began for Poirot and Hastings – we are also introduced to Inspector Japp in this book too. It was interesting to see their slightly awkward chemistry as they muddled through their very first investigation together. And, what a good first case together too! I don’t believe I have ever watched a TV adaptation of this as all the clues, twists and turns were all new to me and I didn’t see the final solution coming at all. I think Christie did leave enough clues along the way for the reader to figure it out, however I was enjoying the unravelling tale too much to worry about figuring it out for myself. I daren’t share anymore as I fear spoiling something for you!
So overall, I found The Mysterious Affair at Styles to be a well-written and intriguing mystery, which drew me in and brought me welcome relief from the Christmas craziness around me. I look forward to reading more Christie/Poirot mysteries. Great read.
Have you read this? What is your favourite Poirot mystery?