The Mysterious Affair At Styles
Reviewed: August 22, 2007
By: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Berkley Books
208 pages, $9.99
Back in 1920
Agatha Christie decided to write a mystery novel with a quirky lead character,
Following the lead of Arthur Conan Doyle she decided that it would be best to
have the actual adventure narrated by an “everyman” who could observe, but not
really understand, the actions of the star.
of course, was Hercule Poirot, an amazing little Belgian with a very distinct
sense of style and a high opinion of his own “little grey cells”, an opinion
honed by a prior career with the Belgian police. The mustache, the grooming,
the sartorial splendor, the slightly mangled English, the sly wit - all the
trademarks of Poirot are there on that very first outing.
takes place in the English countryside, in that combination of village life and
country squire elegance that would be the setting for so much of Christie’s
work. Poirot is in England as part of a group of expatriate Belgians who have
sought refuge there during the Great War. Quite by accident he is drawn into a
murder mystery, a classic locked room affair with some very interesting points
and lots of red herrings.
is Captain Hastings, who is quite a bit dimmer of perception that Dr. Watson
ever was. In later novels he seems to have added some IQ points, but in this
one, he is well below the average level of the reader, full of opinions,
jumping to conclusions, and creating half the false solutions in the story.
David Suchet/Hugh Fraser Poirot mysteries on PBS I used to wonder why their
version of Hastings was such a class bound ass, but now I realize that Fraser
took his portrayal from these earlier stories and that it was spot on.
bits of this book that are badly dated, and if you have no background in the
British detective story genre, there are references to customs and opinions
that will baffle and annoy you, but the book holds up quite well after 87
years, and the interplay among the characters is interesting, as is the setting
and the sense of peeking into another time and way of life.
Christie would be right at home in today’s CSI flavored mysteries if she were
still alive and writing, because the solution to this one hangs on some very
particular forensic evidence. The book was praised in a contemporary journal of
pharmacology for its accuracy in dealing with the matter of the poison used in
as Christie could be later in her career, in her early novels she often broke
with convention and got away with it. In The Murder of Roger Akroyd she
had the story told to us by the murderer. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles
she actually hid the murderer by making that person the most obvious suspect
right from the beginning.
power seems to be a fair way to evaluate the success of an author or a book.
Why do some authors fade when they die (Ross MacDonald) while others stay in
print (John D. Macdonald)? In Christie’s case, there is no shortage of her work
on the book racks, and this particular volume can be had in paperback, hard
cover, large print, audio CD and MP3 audio versions. Allowing for some duplication,
there were well over 40 different hits when I checked the online bookstores.
to read this one as an e-book (from Renaissance E Books as distributed by
Fictionwise) on my PDA while travelling. It was a pleasant airport companion.