Several years ago, I inherited a stack of Agatha Christie novels from my grandmother. She was a huge reader and had shelves packed with used copies M. C. Beaton and Agatha Christie mysteries. I’ve never been a great reader of mysteries myself, but I enjoy having my grandma’s old books on hand.
With my reading slump just passing, I felt the urge to pick up one of the Poirot stories I had on my shelf. The fantastic thing about Christie’s novels are that they’re short, quick reads–perfect for when you still aren’t feeling quite up to that next Song of Ice and Fire book or serious literary fiction.
I’d actually been meaning to read The Mysterious Affair at Styles as my next Christie for awhile now anyway. According to the cover, it’s the first Hercule Poirot case and I wanted to see how his investigations got started. Of course, The Mysterious Affair at Styles isn’t an origin story in the regular sense, but it serves as an introduction for Poirot–who appears in thirty-three of her novels.
I’ve always been a particular fan of Poirot’s–much more so than Miss Marple’s–and The Mysterious Affair at Styles didn’t change that. I can’t remember him saying anything about “little grey cells” over the course of the novel, but other than that, he’s the same old Poirot I remember from later books. He prizes logic and doesn’t discount any clue no matter how small. I loved how he interacted with the narrator, Mr. Hastings, in particular. Poor Mr. Hastings frequently thought Poirot was complimenting him on his cleverness. That was never the case.
The plot of The Mysterious Affair at Styles revolves around Mr. Hastings’ visit to Styles Court. Styles is the home John Cavendish, an old friend of Hastings, and it’s currently not the happiest place in the world. Cavendish’s stepmother has recently remarried someone much younger than herself. All her children and companions believe this new husband, Mr. Inglethorp, to be a tremendous gold digger. Mrs. Inglethorp, however, will hear nothing bad about him, and the whole home is on edge as a result.
It’s not horribly surprising (to the reader, at least) when Mrs. Inglethorp is soon found dying in her bedroom. Attempts to save her prove fruitless, and it’s soon discovered that she’s been poisoned. Nearly everyone in the family has a motive, but thankfully, Hastings knows Hercule Poirot–the one man who can certainly get to the bottom of things.
I tried to play along with the mystery of Styles and failed miserably to match Poirot’s cleverness. I will say that I’d make a better detective than poor Mr. Hastings though. I was on the right track with my suspicions, but I guessed the second most likely suspect rather than the murderer themselves. I’ve never been very good at figuring out whodunnit–at least not if the mystery is well written–but I was happy that Christie didn’t have me looking quite as foolish as Hastings.
In spite of being fooled, I truly enjoyed The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It surprised me how much I got caught up in the plot. Like I said, I’m not a great mystery reader, but this time, I was definitely invested. I suppose it might be fun to start reading Agatha Christie more regularly. Maybe my taste in books have changed just enough so that mysteries are more my thing now. It could be interesting, at least, to see if that’s the case.
I give The Mysterious Affair at Styles 4 out of 5 grey cells. I’d definitely recommend it!
Do you read mysteries? Which authors are your favorites?