The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Agatha Christie
1921, England
Hercule Poirot

Not only is The Mysterious Affair at Styles Christie’s first novel, it is the first Hercule Poirot mystery. Set in the countryside during the First World War, it is a wonderful coincidence–one that likely enables a terrible crime to be solved correctly–that Poirot happens to be a war refugee living in the neighborhood and that a friend from the pre-war days, Hastings, is staying at Styles House, where the crime occurs. Hastings will prove the Watson to Poirot’s Holmes – though I must say, he strikes me as quite the inferior Watson. He prides himself as an observer and yet he never quite seems to get it–not merely in the detection of crime (for which we could all be given fails, as clever as the mastermind is here), but he doesn’t even seem able to recognize the truth of ordinary interactions between people, including those involving himself. It can be a bit frustrating for the reader at times, although perhaps this is intentional, to allow us a little feeling of superiority even when we fail spectacularly at solving the crime (err…as I always do, at least!)

There are all the ingredients of a typical Poirot novel: a country house setting, a small cast of suspects, a difficult case that the police can’t get right, red herrings, even a set of locked doors posing difficulties. Poirot performs his typical work of genius in neatly uncovering the solution at the very end. And yet–it didn’t quite feel “right” to me. Somehow, I didn’t feel as at home at Styles as have with later Christie novels.  Perhaps this is the reflection of it being a “first” – Poirot didn’t feel quite fully “Poirot-like” to me, yet, though that may because I am not used to seeing him through the eyes of Hastings. But the novel also didn’t feel quite as tight in its execution, and although I am quite used to not actually solving the crime, usually there’s this feeling of “Oh, right…” that didn’t quite happen for me here. So not quite my favorite Christie, but it certainly does nothing to dissuade me from more!

[Read in early 2019….and just now finally posting! Part of my Agatha Christie reading project.]

8 thoughts on “The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie”

  1. I just listened to the audiobook of this recently and agree – neither Poirot nor Hastings are quite the characters they would become later, and the plotting isn’t as tight as her best books. But it was still fun to see how she started out!

      1. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how they develop, as it seems I’ve only read Christie’s later mysteries.

    1. I don’t think I’ve ever really encountered Hastings before, so I don’t have a comparison there, but I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one that thought this about Poirot. I agree, it’s fun to see the origins!

  2. I happened to read Styles after reading some of Christie’s – Poirot’s and others. So, to me, Styles gave a different angle of the typical red-herrings. I can’t disclose it here, but perhaps you understand. 🙂 (that’s the difficulty of discussing mystery books – you can’t disclose too much for fearing to make spoilers for others!)

    About Hastings, I think he is the best sidekick for Poirot. Actually he is quite a good observer (Poirot is often benefited from this gift), but he doesn’t possess the ability to sort it methodically (which is Poirot’s greatest asset – his little grey cells!) That makes them a great partner.

    1. Fanda, you’re right, it’s difficult to write about mysteries! But you have some good points about Hastings. I’m not sure he’s quite there yet in this first book–and a pretty lady does seem to distract him–but he does offer an excellent counterpart to Poirot.

    1. Jane, it’s fun to see the origin stories, I think, and to see how the characters develop. I’m looking forward to the first Miss Marple down the road, too.

Comments are closed.