I’d read this book a couple of times before. The first Poirot. And the first entry in My Agatha Christie Project.
Let me just get this out of the way. Christie had no business being this amazing right out the gate. I know she had some rejected stories and whatnot, all writers do, but Hercule Poirot is a legendary character who appears in dozens of books. In this, his first, he’s practically fully formed. WTF, Christie? How about leaving a little talent for the rest of us?
Anyway, if you don’t know the book, it introduces three reoccurring characters from the Christie mélange: Hercule Poirot, Captain Arthur Hastings, and Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard.
BTW, Word gives me a red, squiggly underline for “Hercule” and all I can say is what the fuck, Microsoft? How do you not recognize Hercule but have a spelling suggestion for supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?! (I was off by one letter – my original spelling included a K.)
What Happens at Styles Stays at Styles
So, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” is about an English family during the final years of the Great War. Christie began writing the book during the war, in 1916, but it wasn’t published until 1920.
The book opens with Hastings recuperating after an injury. He runs into an old friend, John Cavendish, who invites him to Styles, the family manor. Living at Styles are John, his wife Mary, brother Lawrence, stepmother Emily Inglethorp, and her new husband Alfred Inglethorp. Also living there are family friend Cynthia Murdoch and the matriarch’s companion, Evelyn Howard.
The village is home to a kind of boarding house cum nursing home for Belgian refugees, including Hercule Poirot. Captain Hastings met Poirot during the war and is delighted to run into him again. Together (sort of, it’s obviously Poirot’s show), they bring Emily Inglethorp’s murderer to justice.
My Takeaways from Styles
So, I have a couple of thoughts about this book every time I read it. First, the Cavendish boys, John and Lawrence. I know that I’m supposed to feel they are being usurped and put upon by an overbearing stepmother (not too much, Mrs. Inglethorpe is actually very sympathetically drawn for a Christie matriarch). All I can think, though, is, get over yourself! One studied as a lawyer and the other as a doctor. Both, however, live at the family manor and do nothing to earn a living.
I know part of this is my American attitude coupled with the fact that the book is set literally a century ago. Times have changed, cultures are different, etc. I stand by it, though. Don’t like the way stepmommy treats you? Get a job and your own damn house, then!
The second thing that always grinds my gears is Hastings and his attitude toward Mary. This is the first time we see Hastings, so obviously it’s our introduction to his penchant for women with auburn hair, as Poirot says. But seriously, dude. This is the wife of someone you supposedly consider a good friend. Maybe don’t be so obviously ready to bone the second she gives the all-clear. WTF, Artie?
On the whole, though, this is a terrific book. It offers a satisfying peak at life in an English manor home as well as the personal politics of the time. I hadn’t known all that stuff about the Belgians during WWI, so that was interesting to learn (and inspired me to do a bit of reading to learn more).
The BBC Adaptation
The BBC series, “Poirot” covered this book (series 3, episode 1). David Suchet was, of course, perfection as Poirot. Casting all around is pretty great, actually. And the screenplay adaptation was excellent. They don’t always capture the right feeling or attitude, but this one was excellent.