by Agatha Christie
Amazon / Goodreads
In her first published mystery, Agatha Christie introduced readers to her Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Poirot, a Belgian refugee of the Great War, is settling in England near the home of Emily Cavendish, who helped him to his new life. His friend Hastings arrives as a guest at her home. When the woman is killed, Poirot uses his detective skills to solve the mystery.
The story is told in the first person by Hastings, and features many of the elements that have become icons of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, largely due to Christie's influence. It is set in a large, isolated country manor. There are a half-dozen suspects, most of whom are hiding facts about themselves. The plot includes a number of red herrings and surprise twists.
Review:This book is momentous alone for being Agatha Christie's first mystery, and for it being the first case for her famous detective Hercule Poirot. The atmosphere, the eclectic mix of characters and British sensibilities, makes this a wonderful read as well. There is something so immersive about a Christie novel - she is adept at setting up a story and the characters quickly, and weaving up a mass of details and drama. This is rather a short book for a Christie novel, so even though the characters feel natural and realistic, they are sort of only there to prop up the mystery.
In this mystery, there really is a sense that the reader is being given all the clues (through the delightfully clueless Arthur Hastings) - even with drawings of the rooms, and facsimiles of the tangible evidence. Every detail is given, but in the end it is Poirot who must unite and clarify and this is all done so skillfully through Christie's writing. I felt just as Hastings did, a little awed and a little abashed that I couldn't draw the right conclusions.
Poirot, with all of his eccentricities and quirks, seems fully formed and riveting in this book. It is interesting to me that Poirot is so completely what he will be in the next books of his series - he's so unique too in his fastidious and exacting manner that it surprises me that Christie had such a grip on his character from the very first. Poirot is a character who has always delighted me, and I love the sense that he is a formidable personality, while also being kind and generous to everyone. Hastings, too, has always appealed to me - he's the perfect foil to Poirot - very British and correct, and observant enough of Poirot to be of aid to him. And there is such a droll sense of humor in how many times Hastings dismisses Poirot's words or actions when it doesn't fit in with his own ideas and conclusions. Hastings is so well meaning, but completely unaware of how badly he follows in Poirot's detective footsteps.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a wonderful mystery too - it's pretty impossible to guess the murderer I think, and the twist in the end is absolutely genius. The methodology of the murder is so clever as well - this is a mystery that is packed with incident and suspense, and is a perfect beginning for Poirot.
--------[This book is a reread for me - when I was in high school and into college, I read all of Poirot's mysteries, but lately I've had a longing to reread his stories, so I plan to read and review them for my blog - in order of publication. It's a long oeuvre, so I won't rush to complete it - I'll just sprinkle in a Poirot mystery now and again!]