Agatha Christie doesn’t really need much introduction, her books and tales are known all over the world. Her characters have become as infamous on the screen, as they are on paper.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is Christie’s first published novel. The narrator is Poirot’s trusted sidekick Hastings, and he is more or less the Watson to his Holmes.
However where Watson plays the role of moral compass and trusty adviser, Hastings is the bumbling often dim-witted and highly amusing comical partner to straight-laced Poirot.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the setting of the beginning of the detective duo and also the end of duo, and the most famous detective in the world, which is what Poirot likes to call himself.
Hastings is staying at Styles, a country place he used to visit frequently as a child, called Styles Court. The house was left to the wife of the previous owner a Mr Cavendish. In doing so he completely disregarded his sons from his first marriage. The house, the money and all the belongings are tied to the woman, who raised them. However Mrs Inglethorp is also the woman, who has taken a new husband 20 years her junior, thereby endangering their inheritance.
Hastings is enamoured by Mary Cavendish, the wife of the eldest son. This tends to happen a lot in the Poirot stories by the way. Hastings falls in and out of love at the drop of a hat, whilst Hercule shakes his head, smirks at his friends boyish naivety and penchant for pretty women.
I shall never forget my first sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall, slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense of slumbering fire that seemed to find expression only in those wonderful tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, different from any other woman’s that I have ever known; the intense power of stillness she possessed, which nevertheless conveyed the impression of a wild untamed spirit in an exquisitely civilised body.
Yeh, awkward Hastings, the clumsy, charming ladies man, with a keen eye for a pretty face and an indignant need to save every single damsel in distress, whether or not they are in distress at all is an entirely different matter.
With the presence of Mr. Inglethorp, a sense of constraint and veiled hostility seemed to settle down upon the company. From the very first I took a firm and rooted dislike to him, and I flatter myself that my first judgments are usually fairly shrewd.
Hastings takes an instant dislike to the new husband, perhaps his view is slightly clouded by the reactions and opinions of others. Mrs Inglethorp’s companion Miss Howard is especially vocal in her mistrust and dislike of Mr Inglethorp.
|Styles (Chavenage House, Tetbury)|
Before the tragic events of the story unfold, Hasting comes upon his friend Hercule Poirot in the nearby village. Poirot is there with other Belgian refugees, who are there on the invitation of Mary Cavendish and Mrs Inglethorp.
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 very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible.
So, the stage is set, all the characters are in place and now all that is missing is the actual crime. It follows soon after when the lady of the house becomes gravely ill and dies, all alone by herself in a locked room and no initial suspect in sight.
Mrs. Inglethorp was lying on the bed, her whole form agitated by violent convulsions, in one of which she must have overturned the table beside her. As we entered, however, her limbs relaxed, and she fell back upon the pillows.
Hastings reaches out to Poirot at once. He feels instinctively that the death of Mrs Inglethorp is suspicious, hence the need for the famous detective. The need for some clarity.
“Poirot locked the door on the inside, and proceeded to a minute inspection of the room. He darted from one object to the other with the agility of a grasshopper. I remained by the door, fearing to obliterate any clues.”
Is Hastings gut instinct correct? How can he be when Mr Inglethorpe has an iron clad alibi? He is the one who benefits the most from the poor woman’s death. Who else could kill someone in such a callous way, and yet also with incredible forethought and criminal skill?
I have purposely only given you half of the story, because what fun would this cozy murder be if I told you whodunnit?
Not that I wouldn’t, and not that I haven’t before on many occasions, but I have a soft spot for Poirot and you deserve to experience his deliciously astute deductions by yourselves. To discover the secret of the self named greatest detective in the world.
As a last thought it almost seems like poetic justice that Christie brings an end to her great Belgian detective in the same place she first created him, at Styles Court. Poirot’s last case is called Curtain. Poirot and Hasting are reunited at Styles, at the scene of their first crime they solved together. This time Poirot is up against a criminal so vile that he has to put aside his morals and convictions to prove the person guilty. Poirot has returned to Styles to die.
To read more about Poirot, and Christie’s infamous Miss Marple click on one of the links below to discover, download, listen to and read for free. Read Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie here or The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie at the Internet Archive here. Download to read The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie here or The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie at Feedbooks here. Or if you would rather listen to The Mysterious Affair at Styles at the Internet Archive go here. To read more about Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple right here on the blog: read Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is best Marple of them all? and here Saying Goodbye to Suchet’s Hercule Poirot.