Agatha Christie’s first published novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles led to her continuing success through famous detective Hercule Poirot and his side-kick Arthur Hastings. Lieutenant Hastings, out on sick leave from the army during World War I, is invited by friend John Cavendish to spend his time at Styles Court. Styles Court is owned by John’s step-mother, formerly Emily Cavendish who has recently married a young and mysterious Alfred Inglethorp. John and his brother Lawrence are sure that the man is after their step-mother’s money but have no way of proving it. The old lady is absolutely besotted creating a lot of tension.
In this out of the world place, Arthur unexpectedly meets an old friend Hercule Poirot. Emily Inglethorp, always charitable and generous, has helped Poirot and some of his countrymen to settle in England. It is because he is indebted to her that the renowned Belgian ex-detective takes on a new case – that of Emily Inglethorp’s murder; For one day, Emily is found suffering from seizures in her bed; her subsequent death is put down to strychnine poisoning.
The murder increases the tension pitching the whole family into a nightmare. The prime suspect is Alfred Inglethorp, but Poirot does everything he can to stop his arrest – it is crucial to the solution that Alfred is declared innocent and John tried for the murder. The family desperately awaits the outcome.
I am a huge Hercule Poirot fan. I love his method, his idiosyncrasies (which in this case actually help with a key piece of evidence), and his ‘grey cells’. In re-reading the novel I was sure I would find some loophole or some fact that didn’t go with the solution to the murder, but I found no such thing. Each and every piece of the puzzle was found by Hercule Poirot and properly accounted for. I looked at everything in a different light and saw how Poirot’s logic, which led him to the murderer, was actually really sound. I wonder how I never got it the first time round!
It was really the characters rather than the plot that made this novel so great. I loved the intricate relationship portrayals and how we are shown Hastings’ chivalry and innocence right from the beginning. Among the notable characters in the novel was John Cavendish’s wife Mary – a unique character and one I have not found in any other Agatha Christie novel. Poirot, always out to nail the murderer, nevertheless has a human side that shows itself in the little things he does for the innocent.