The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

Throughout her career, Agatha Christie wrote an enormous number of novels and today her name is synonymous with detective fiction. Strangely, even though I have a fondness for detective fiction and for classics in general, I somehow never got around to reading anything by her. Recently, I decided to change that and read her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, with a view to reading all of them in order.

So what can I say about this, other than that it’s great? In addition to being Agatha Christie’s first novel, it’s also the first appearance of Hercule Poirot, an eccentric former police officer who is a refugee from Belgium. The story is told from the perspective of Arthur Hastings, who seeks out Poirot to help him with an investigation into the death of a woman named Emily Inglethorpe who died under mysterious circumstance.

It really has all the staples of the genre. A stately home with several people in it, multiple suspects with their own motivations and a trail of clues for you to follow at your own rate. Poirot works to piece it together, witholding many of his suspicions from Hastings, but following different lines of investigations and dropping cryptic clues as to his suspicions. In the context of all that came later, this novel was a real trend setter.

Though I didn’t do it myself (I was more than happy to just come along for the ride), I think the way the story is told means that a reader could figure out what happened if they really tried to. As for the ultimate reveal of the murderer, I was quite surprised, but I loved how everything fit together in the explanation at the end.

The most appealing aspect of the novel is Poirot himself. I suppose I’m always drawn to charming eccentrics, but I particularly like the way that he’s so personable and jolly all the time. He’s quite a contrast to my other favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes – who nicely enough, gets mentioned near the start, with someone comparing Poirot to him. I enjoyed this reference quite a lot, particularly as it reminded me how Holmes being compared to C. Auguste Dupin (an even earlier detective) in A Study in Scarlet. It’s also refreshing to have a heroic protagonist who’s a refugee as well.

It’s a relatively short novel and it makes for pleasant, easy reading. I quite enjoyed Christie’s writing style and, frankly, I’m excited to see what happens in the rest of her books. If you enjoy a mystery, I think you’ll enjoy this.

Rating: 8.5/10

Buy now.

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