The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1), by Agatha Christie

Eight stars

Being crowned ‘the Queen of Mystery’ is no small feat, though I am baffled why I have never picked up a book by Agatha Christie before now. After being encouraged to do so, I chose her debut novel, in which Christie introduces readers to a sharp detective with a keen eye for truth. A wealthy woman is poisoned on her estate and the list of potential suspects is long. The local authorities are baffled as to what they can do, leaving the door open for an eccentric Belgian, Hercule Poirot. As he examines the scene, Poirot works through a number of red herrings before honing in on the suspect and letting everyone know how the crime was committed. A great piece that had me shaking my head throughout. I will be back to try another mystery soon!

The country estate of Emily Inglethorp is known around England as being one of note. In the aftermath of the Great War, Styles Court is a sight to see and many have come to enjoy it. Our narrator, Colonel Hastings, makes his way there, after being invited by a friend. What follows is a series of arguments that allows Hastings to discover that not all is as peaceful at Styles as many would hope. Rather, it is tense and the family is fraying at the edges.

When Emily Inglethorp is found dead from poisoning a few days later, Hastings can only surmise that the murderer is at hand. The local authorities are baffled and cannot make sense of the scene, but there is another who could help. Having been displaced during the war, Belgian police detective Hercule Poirot has taken up residence close by and he is eager to assist. Poirot attends the scene and explores many of the items found close at hand. It is only then that he can begin piecing it all together.

Building up his own narrative of events, Poirot seeks to tie things together through a series of interconnected facts, though there are a number of red herrings that must be discarded as well. When all the pieces come together, Poirot has his suspect and makes it known, explaining the crime and the rationale in detail, before the authorities cart them off to jail. A sensational mystery that paves the way for some strong stories to come. I will surely have to try my hand at a few more Poirot stories to see what else Dame Christie has in store.

While I have enjoyed mysteries my entire life, I seem never to have tried one my the woman who created a niche for them. Agatha Christie has a reputation for being a stellar author, with her attention to detail and powerful writing. Poirot, her first detective, creates a wonderful story that all readers can enjoy, as he peels back the crime and deciphers truths that few see, even though they are right under their noses. Christie’s delivery is unique and yet highly effective, keeping the reader in the middle of the story throughout. I can see this being a series I will want to keep at hand for the foreseeable future, as the books seem like a perfect palate cleanser between denser reads!

While the story had many significant characters throughout, I would be remiss if I did not focus my attention on Hercule Poirot. A Belgian refugee from the Great War, Poirot has settled in England and this will surely explain his presence at many crime scenes in future novels. Christie does not offer a great deal about his past just yet, though there is still time for that. Rather, the reader can connect to him through his intuitiveness and deductive reasoning. I quite enjoyed that he saw things others did not, but was not a ‘know it all’ from the outset; Poirot stumbles and needs “aha!” moments as well. I am eager to see where this will lead and how his reasoning will shape future mysteries.

Agatha Christie has become one of the best-known mystery writers of all times and this novel shows what they title fits. While this was he debut novel, there is so much within it to keep the reader entertained and eager to forge onwards. Her narrative development is sensational and she pushes the story forwards, while keeping the reader entertained with all that is going on. Her characters are well-developed and the nuances in the story emerge slowly and sometimes quietly, forcing the reader to look back and see what they missed. Use of a second-person narrative had me scrambling to wrap m head around the story in the early stages, but I soon found my rhythm. While I have to mentally rewind and recall that these early pieces were penned over a century ago, they still work in today’s mad rush, even without the vulgarities and smarmy sexual side stories. There is a lot to be learned from the Queen of Mystery and I am happy to take some time as a curious pupil!

Kudos, Dame Christie, fir a stunning debut. I will be back for more in the coming weeks!