2015 Reading Challenge – Book #7 – The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Book #7 – A popular author’s first book – The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Genre: Murder Mystery/Crime
Published: 1920
Country: United Kingdom
Book to TV/Movie Adaptation: Adapted for TV in 1990 and subsequently for BBC Radio as well as several touring plays.

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What do I say about the Queen of Mystery and Crime? She has set the bar so high for me, that I have yet to read a mystery that can match her level of ingenuity and simplicity. Her characterizations, settings and plots are so deceptively simple yet so clever in their detailing, it is impossible to not be able to imagine them in your mind’s eye. The picture she portrays is crystal clear.

This is her first novel and set in the middle of the First World War. We are introduced to Arthur Hastings, a young man of about thirty years who has been given a month’s leave from the Army to fully recover from an injury he sustained a few months ago. Having no close relations, he is unsure of where to go when he runs into an old friend John Cavendish. John invites Hastings to spend his leave at his home in the village of Styles St. Mary in Essex county, an invitation which Hastings accepts. On the way, John tells Hastings about his old stepmother’s recent remarriage to a much younger man who is disliked by everyone in the house. Hastings senses the hostility towards Mr. Alfred Inglethorp, Mrs. Emily Inglethorp’s younger husband and within a fortnight of his stay, witnesses several arguments in the household. A tragedy occurs when Mrs. Inglethorp is violently killed a few days later by way of strychnine poisoning.

The local police and Hastings unofficially employ the help of trusted friend Monsieur Hercule Poirot, a very famous Belgian detective now seeking refuge in Styles in his old age. Poirot loves a good mystery to exercise his little ‘gray cells’ and is a neat freak who likes order in his surroundings and thought. Despite several odd eccentricities that he is prone to display, Poirot is a very clever man who lets no small detail or information escape his mind.

Hastings is a man with much emotion yet little imagination. He is often baffled at the way Poirot’s overactive mind sees details that no one can see.  Poirot is a man with a method to his madness that only he can understand. Together, the two attempt to solve the mystery that has even got Scotland Yard involved.

The pairing of Poirot and Hastings is akin to Holmes and Watson, indeed the inspiration for the two has been derived from Doyle’s novels, but Christie’s writing style is her own. Her language is uncomplicated and timeless and her insight into human psychology makes for very interesting characterizations, each possessing their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. In fact, body language and expression play a very strong role in her novels.

What I love about Agatha Christie’s writing is her ability to keep the mystery alive till the very end. All the facts of the case are straightforward and laid bare on the table, making you think deeply along with the characters in the book. However, there is a purposeful enjoyment she derives in leading her readers astray. You think you have figured it out but the ending completely shocks you and you realise how far you had been thrown off track. This is a charming characteristic I have not seen in most mystery writing.

Despite my amateur attempts at sleuthing, I definitely did not guess the mystery right as expected, but I also wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending of this one. I have absolutely enjoyed her subsequent novels more than this first attempt. Having said that, I will definitely recommend anyone to read this book, just to get acquainted with Poirot and Hastings and see if they can solve the mystery.

Book Rating: 4.5 out of 5

You can email me at thistlesandwhistles@hotmail.com
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