"I bet you can't write a good detective story," that was how it all started. Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie's real name) was challenged by her sister Madge (herself was a detective story at that time). With her professional knowledge of poisons, which she possessed from working at the dispensary at local hospital; and with many Belgian refugees from World War I entering her village, Mary Wesmacott wrote her first detective story: The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
This book introduced us to one of the most famous fictional detectives in the world: the genius, charismatic, and flamboyant Hercule Poirot. It also marked the first appearance of Captain Arthur Hastings, Poirot's dearest sidekick. Interestingly, Christie would later couple them again in Poirot's last case: Curtain.
As a first work, The Mysterious Affair at Styles struck me with it's beautiful writing and simplicity. The murder is far from gory or violent; it feels more clever and scientific, and... so simple. Indeed, in her later works, simplicity is most oftenly becomes the tone.
Mrs. Emily Cavendish was an old wealthy widow who remarried Alfred Ingelthorp (a total stranger), and became Mrs. Ingelthorp. Although fair and generous, Mrs. Ingelthorp always expected people whom she helped to be dependent on her. She provided her two sons: John (with his wife Mary) and Lawrence Cavendish with luxury and comfort, and also handsome allowances. She even took her orphaned relative Cynthia Murdoch, and the old spinster Evelyn Howard (Alfred Ingelthorp's cousin) into her care. But they were all dependent on her, and never had freedom.
One night she died of poisoning; and there's no doubt that someone inside the family circle has deliberately killed her. Hastings was at that time being invited to stay at the house by John, and he brought Poirot to investigate the case to avoid any scandal, which would have been the case if the police was being involved.
The rest is typically the same as most detective stories: interviews, proof searches, cross examinations to find alibis, 'misleading red herring' (usually using the side kicks, who'd lead us to believe the suspect was A, while it turned out to be B), and finally: plot twist. But again, Styles is unique for its combination of Christie's particular knowledge of poisons and simplicity. It reminded me again, that murder is more about chance and decision. Anyone can do it, you don't need sophisticated weapons. When you find the extraordinary chance is presented to you by itself, all you need to do is to decide. To kill or not to kill, that's the question.
This was my second read (the first was perhaps more than 30 years ago), and I'm lucky to have read the e-book version I bought from Google Playbooks. It has John Curran's introduction, and includes the original unpublished ending. As you may have been familiar with Poirot's conclusion or revelation method; he always holds a mini conference with everyone involved, then presented his chronological investigations dramatically, and finally 'pointed his finger' to the murderer. However, in the original script Christie wrote the scene as court investigation before the judge and jurors. Luckily her editor asked her to change that, and after that Christie always used the mini conference as her trademark revelation scene, as we know now.
This is my first entry for Agatha Christie Perpetual Challenge. This time I will read chronologically from publication date list. What a perfect start I have had for this fun perpetual journey!
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