This is the first novel by Agatha Christie, written in 1916 and first published in 1920. In it she created Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective and introduced Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Old Mrs Inglethorp is found dying in her bedroom and although by the end of the book I guessed who had murdered her, I was completely bamboozled most of the way through the book by all the clues and false trails.
The novel is set during the First World War I at Styles Court, a country house in Essex, owned by the very wealthy Mrs Inglethorp, who had shocked her family by marrying Alfred Inglethorp, 20 years her junior. Captain Hastings had been invalided home from the Front and was invited to stay at Styles, the home of a friend, John Cavendish, Mrs Inglethorp’s son. When she dies from strychnine poisoning there are plenty of suspects. Captain Hastings enlists the help of Poirot, who is living in Styles St Mary with other Belgian refugees, to investigate the matter.
I am so used to seeing David Suchet as Poirot and was delighted to find his portrayal of Poirot is so accurate:
Poirot was an extraordinary-looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was verys tiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.
This is a most ingenious and intricately plotted book, with plenty of suspects to exercise those “little grey cells”. I do enjoy those detective stories where you’re given the clues that have been dropped into the narrative throughout the book in a seemingly haphazard way and then are reorganised at the end as Poirot does in this one to explain how and why the murder was committed. So in this book we have a shattered coffee cup, a splash of candle grease, a bed of begonias, a charred fragment of a will, a fragment of green material, an overheard argument, a tilting table, a locked purple dispatch-case and so on and so on. Helpfully the book includes diagrams of the house and the murder scene.
The only other thing I’ll say about who-did-it is that it’s the person I first thought of and then was fooled into changing my mind!
Click here to read more reviews of Agatha Christie’s books.
This is the 10th library book I’ve read this year. I’m well on target for reading 25 library books in 2009 for the Support Your Library Challenge.