Agatha Christie’s first Hercule Poirot book is also my first sojourn into Christie’s oeuvre. I was initially underwhelmed by the novel at first, but in all my reading throughout the years, I’ve come to realize that the “first” or earliest notable version of any genre can seem mediocre because of the people who came after and perfected the form.
The novel as a form is a great example of this – try reading Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson. It’s one of the earliest examples of a novel in English, and while it is impressive in many ways, I don’t know very many people who would select it as a pleasurable read outside of the classroom.
Christie’s Poirot novels remind me of that phenomenon: I can imagine taking or teaching a class using her novels as examples of Detective Fiction, but they’re not the type that I would just recommend to people.
But back to The Mysterious Affair at Styles! The case centers on a family in a small English village, the matriarch of which dies suddenly and mysteriously. Emily Inglethorp is a widow who has recently remarried to a man named Alfred, and her children and staff believe her married her for the money. Naturally, he becomes the prime suspect in, what folks assume is a case of poisoning.
Arthur Hastings is visiting the family and, as luck would have it, Hercule Poirot is living in the village near Styles Court. Along with several other Belgians, Poirot sought refuge from the devastation of World War I. He’s also a world class detective, and he immediately takes the case. After a few weeks, several disguises, and a couple of trials, Poirot solves the murder (and is surprised that the answer wasn’t obvious to everyone else).
I’ve seen a few movie and television adaptations of Poirot stories, and I was surprised to hear how he’s described in the books. He’s a tiny little mustachioed man with boundless energy and a keen eye. He’s much quirkier, and I want to revisit some of his further adventures.