Title: Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1)
Author: Agatha Christie
First Published in October 1920)
Genre: Crime and Mystery
Bonjour, Messieurs and Mesdames. Today, I present to you ze review of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first book in the Hercule Poirot series. Oui. Tres` bien, let me start by telling you what the story is all about.
Do not worry, I am not going to add any more French words in my review (because I don’t know any other than oui and tres` bien) 😉
Emily Inglethorpe, the proud owner of Styles Court is found dead in her bedroom. The door was bolted from inside but foul play was suspected because Mrs.Inglethorpe was most probably poisoned – she had tetanic-like convulsions before passing away. Hastings arrived at the Styles Court days earlier. He was invited by Mrs Inglethorpe’s son – John Cavendish. The whole family, except for Mrs Inglethorpe of course, does not like Mr Inglethorpe. With his weird clothes, glasses and long beard, he looks someone you must watch out for.
Evelyn Howard, Emily’s companion, warns her about the husband. It ends up in a fight and Evelyn walks out of the house. When Emily dies, the doctors refuse to give a death certificate stating that she might have been murdered. So this leads to an inquest. Hastings suggests that Hercule Poirot must be consulted on this case and the family agrees.
Anjana and I decided to do a buddy read on this one. I found the story to be a bit boring while she said the pace was good. She also stated that she might have felt so she as hers was an audio book.
There is also a mention of Holmes and Watson pair at the beginning of the story. Christie has stated that she was trying to write in the Sherlock Holmes tradition so I guess the mention was to make the reader aware of the fact that the series would include an eccentric detective, assistant and a Scotland Yard Detective Inspector. Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings and James Japp in this case.
The story is as narrated by Hastings – quite similar to Conan Doyle style where the stories are narrated by Watson. And, it doesn’t end there. Like how Holmes goes missing for a long time during the investigations, Poirot also follows the same suit in this story. I did not like this. I have read other Poirot stories and he takes Hastings to most of the places. Or, at least, he doesn’t go incognito for a long time.
Also, like Watson in Sherlock mysteries, Hastings assumes things and draws conclusions hastily. As far as I remember, Hastings is pretty tame and so is Poirot in the other stories in this series. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the ‘pilot’ of Hercule Poirot series and I wish the story could have been better. I love Christie’s stories but this one did not impress me much. Though this was a re-read for me and I couldn’t remember the story much, I found the atmosphere, the plot and Poirot ‘using of grey cells’ pretty boring. In fact, I don’t think Poirot mentions ‘Grey Cells’ in this story.
Hastings played a much bigger role in this story while Poirot was ‘missing’ for almost half of the story. The other characters were not very impressive either. Like the relationship that Dr.Bauerstein had with Mary Cavendish – it did not make a lot of sense. Of course, in the end, she supports her husband so it all ends well. But I felt that Bauerstein should have been given an even better (evil) role in the story.
I do not know if this should be called an inverted mystery. I mean, the identity of the killer is ‘assumed’ in the beginning and Poirot investigates to prove that others are wrong. As things proceed further, Poirot goes back on his word and proves that the accused/assumed person is, in fact, the killer. Overall, it was a mumble-jumble of so many things and a reader might get lost in all the side stories and the so-called red herrings.
To add to this mess is Hastings. He trusts everybody blindly. When Cynthia says that she might no longer be allowed to live in Styles Court, Hastings asks her to marry him! Marry!!! That was so childish of him! He also blurts out Poirot’s findings to his friend, John, forgetting that everybody in the house is a suspect unless proven innocent. The usual insults that Poirot throws towards Hastings were expected in this story. Hastings wants to know it all and Poirot says – We both know the same facts. Yes, Monsieur Poirot, but the poor chap doesn’t think like you do. In fact, you might not know this but Hastings thinks that since you are growing old, you might be turning a tad delusional!
There was nothing great about the ending either. I was like, is that it? The only thing I liked about the story was Poirot’s entry in the story. It happens when the reader doesn’t expect it. Hastings drops by at the post office and walks into an old man. As he apologizes, he sees that the old man is none other than Hercule Poirot. Of course, somewhere in the beginning, Hastings does talk about Poirot but this is the scene where the reader gets a clear picture of the egg-shaped Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.
Overall, it was a disappointing read. If you are new to Poirot series then I do not recommend you to start with this book. The first Christie book that I read happened to be a Poirot series – Murder on the Orient Express. I feel that it is one of Christie’s best so you can go ahead and give it a try. If you are familiar with Poirot and Christie’s books, then go ahead and give this book a try. You can download it for free from Project Gutenberg (legal site).
Anjana liked the story better than I did. She said that Hastings is always annoying while Poirot is less mean when compared to Sherlock. You can read more about her thoughts in her blog.