The Mysterious Affair at Styles is an important milestone in the genre of detective fiction. It was the first Agatha Christie novel ever to be published. Written in 1916, it was published in the US by John Lanein 1920 and in the UK by The Bodley Head the following year.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is also important because it was one of the first ten books to be published by Penguin Books when they were first launched in 1935. It was Penguin Number 6.
The First World War is in full swing. A wounded soldier, Lieutenant Hastings, visits an old friend at his country home, the Styles. But soon after his arrival the mistress of the house dies an agonizing death. Suspicion immediately falls on her much younger second husband. But did he really do it or is the real culprit someone else?
The plot of the story is good. It is nothing earth shattering but it does manage to keep the reader pretty engrossed.
This is the landmark novel that first introduces us to ‘THE’ Hercule Poirot. It also marks the first appearances of Inspector Japp and Hastings.
Hercule Poirot is his usual clever self in this book. Most of his trademark idiosyncrasies, the neatness of his attire, his obsession with keeping everything symmetrical, his pride over the ‘little grey cells’, are present.
Hastings remains his normal annoying self. I think he is one of the main reasons that I prefer Miss Marple over Hercule Poirot. Inspector Japp is barely present.
In my opinion, for a reader to understand the motive of a murder the reader needs to know the personality of the murder victim. In this case the character of Emily Inglethorp is developed well enough taking into account the fact that she gets murdered pretty early on. Even though she is dead we get a clear picture of her personality.
Alfred Inglethorp is a shadowy character. We do not get to see much of him so understanding his motivations is a little difficult. Evelyn Howard was a surprising character.
The characters of John Cavendish, his wife Mary Cavendish, his brother Lawrence Cavendish and the pretty Cynthia Murdoch are all kind of irritating and empty.
In this book, Hastings’ stupid musings on the beautiful Mary Cavendish, who happens to be the wife of his friend, I found really annoying. Then he says and does other foolish things when he spends some time with Cynthia Murdoch. Boring and irritating!
The whole Dr. Bauerstein angle of the story is just wrong. I guess it is a product of its time. But I didn’t like it.
The final solution is a bit too complicated. Did it have to be so intricate considering the motive behind the crime? Something a little simpler wouldn’t have hurt the story.
What I like about it is despite being the authors’ first novel; it does not feel unfinished in any way. Christie was already writing like a pro. Her clear language and keen eye for detail is already obvious in her first book.
This Christie mystery is a must read for every fan of the detective genre. It doesn’t really matter what the story is or what the characters are like. It is important because it marks the genesis of an author and her creation. Both would one day become world-famous. That’s what really matters and that is why I appreciate The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
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