Recently Amazon had a huge Agatha Christie sale for Kindle, so naturally I stocked up. I made a feeble attempt in my tween years to get into Christie’s mysteries, but back then I hadn’t quite the love for British culture of the past, mysteries, or old asexual detectives that I do now. I think I tried to read And Then There Were None once, but I skipped to the end after a few chapters just to find the culprit (much to my current embarrassment). Cut to decades later, I am a fully-formed grown up who loves Marple and Poirot on Masterpiece and so here we go. First I conquer Christie’s first Poirot book (and if I am not mistaken, her first mystery novel ever), The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
Styles takes place where many of Christie’s mysteries do – a large country estate in the late 19-teens. Our narrator is Hastings, a soldier on leave during the war visiting his good friend John Cavendish at his estate, Styles. John and his wife Mary, his brother Lawrence, his wealthy stepmother Emily and her new husband Alfred, Emily’s ward Cynthia, and Emily’s friend Evelyn all live together in perfect English polite disharmony. Alfred is 20 years Emily’s junior, so naturally everyone finds their relationship suspect and ridiculous. They feel even more certain of Alfred’s evil nature when his wife dies suddenly in the night after being poisoned with strychnine. Hastings happened to have met a funny little detective some time before the events of the novel who he recalls is possibly the world’s greatest detective “of his time.” Coincidentally, this same detective, Hercule Poirot, is staying with some other displaced Belgians, just next door in the nearby village. Luckily for the family, but unluckily for the murderer, Poirot is on the case!
As these novels and the character of Poirot are nothing new, I won’t go into too many details on that. I enjoy Poirot as played by David Suchet (and to some extent by whoever starred in the Mia Farrow-led “Death on the Nile” movie) and so it’s fun to read the novel with his picture in mind. I actually really enjoy the device whereby Poirot reveals all in front of the whole cast at the end, but it might not appeal to some. I honestly didn’t know who the culprit was; each time something came up I would change my mind, so it was fun and refreshing. I’ve read a lot of unreliable narrator thrillers lately and they were supposed to shock and surprise and always failed to do so. I do find it a little frustrating that Poirot often makes little asides like “bien sur!” (of course), and we’re left wondering what the hell he sees that we don’t, just like Hastings. That is of course part of his character and part of the detective novel genre, so it isn’t a deal breaker. Another appealing aspect of these novels is how short they are. This was only 115 pages on my Kindle (plus an appendix with Christie’s original ending), so they’ll be great for beach reading all summer.