The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie is a British mystery novel and the first in the iconic Hercule Poirot series. It follows a chap named Captain Hastings who is invited to a fancy country estate so that he can heal from his injuries. Whilst staying at Styles Manor, the last thing Hastings expected was to get caught up in a murder mystery with his nightcap. Eager to assist in finding the culprit, he calls upon a former detective, a Belgian man named Poirot, who is bored of being retired and looking for a spot of excitement.
This was my first Christie novel. I found it sitting on a shelf at the local library and decided to read it since it’s so beloved by millions of people around the world. After finishing it, I finally came to understand the depth of inspiration that her works have enthused over the past century (board games like Clue) and continue to inspire in modern works today (cosy mysteries). Even though I appreciate and respect it’s influence, my overall experience with the story was about subpar.
The Sherlockian-style, locked-room mystery was intriguing to me and I liked the approach it took in engaging the reader into the mystery-solving. We follow both Poirot and Hastings as they investigate the settings, conduct interviews, and make deductions based on their findings; more often than not the two individuals had contrasting conclusions, which was further curious to me. The narrative truly lays out all of the clues before the reader so that they themselves can formulate thoughts about what transpired. It was fun trying to see if my hypotheses matched the two investigators whilst reading.
Because we tag along with them at each step of the investigatory process, we are able to get a naked look at the lives of the era’s upper class family, specifically where tension and discord lie behind the lavishly closed doors. In some ways it felt almost prurient. Frankly, I found the politics of inheritance, especially, to be wholly amusing. One hundred years later and people still fight or kill over similar mundane things. Humanity really never learns from their ignorance and mistakes, no matter how irrelevant or inconsequential.
Character wise, I adored Poirot’s personality. He comes quite flamboyant and colourful around all of the grey and stuck-up individuals that make up the family. Because of his unique mannerisms and way of speaking, he isn’t taken very seriously. I was disappointed that the one person whom should have trusted Poirot’s instincts the most, spend more time debating with him and treating him like a daft individual. At one point in the book shortly after Poirot has established himself to be rather sharp and observant, when he still gets the same treatment, I found myself feeling mildly irritated. That continued doubt just didn’t make sense to me.
The plot, so to speak, was a bit too convoluted. Everyone acted shady as hell and in some ways their behaviours and mannerisms post-murder were too forward or too obvious. I felt as if the book was trying too damn hard to insert suspense where there it didn’t need to be (because it was naturally existent). The finale and the revelation of the culprit was predictable and surprising simultaneously. That is the best way for me to describe it without giving away spoilers. Given the motive, my overall feelings with the finale were bittersweet.
All in all, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was not a bad introduction novel. We get an idea of the key players who I assume will be present in the subsequent instalments (Poirot, Hastings, and Japp the detective), a basic feel for how cases are resolved, and a heavily British-infused vernacular that is quite true to the 1920s era in which it was created (this can feel incredibly dated initially, but once you get used to it, it’s not too bad, albeit slightly pretentious and superfluous). If you enjoy mysteries and are interested in checking out one of the original contributors who is still considered to be the ‘Queen of Mystery,’ then I think you should try this out. It’s relatively short and picks up pace about one-third of the way through.
3.25 cocoas outta 5!