Opening sentence: “The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as ‘The Styles Case’ has now somewhat subsided.’
The Mysterious Affair at Styles has its place in literature history as not only the first Hercule Poirot story, but as the first novel ever published by Agatha Christie. Set in 1917, it is narrated by Captain Hastings and sees Poirot, the iconic detective, living in a small Essex village – Styles – having left his native Belgium due to the war. He is shown kindness by wealthy local resident Emily Inglethorpe, so when she is found dead in mysterious circumstances – with seven potential killers in the mix – he puts his little grey cells to good use and finds out what really happened.
Famed for being Poirot’s first case, but not always touted as one of her ‘must-read’ novels, The Mysterious Affair at Styles is really such an accomplished detective story for an author’s debut. And I have to say, Poirot’s much-loved and unique character jumps out from the page. Christie had his quirks and charm locked down even at this early stage. The actual story was perhaps not as sharp and concise as some of the works she went on to produce, but that’s really not a criticism. I mean, she set her own bar exceedingly high. This was still a highly entertaining read with a clever, distinct plot and showcased that Christie had such a grasp of her trademark style and tone that she – in fact – deviated little from it as it appears here as she continued to write her classics.
It is often said that The Mysterious Affair at Styles kick-started her writing career and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (published 1926) made her famous, but Agatha clearly had a soft spot for this book, as she named her house ‘Styles’ after it. (I say house, but it was pretty epic, as you can see here.) This edition (pictured) also includes the original chapter 12 that her publishers insisted she changed, it’s fascinating to read and see what she originally intended verses what ended up in the book.
I’m so pleased I’ve now read it, I feel I have more grounding to the Poirot story and it’s always good to see how such iconic characters began. Also, I’ve since discovered that Poirot’s last case, Curtain is also set in Styles and I am a huge fan of this kind of beautiful full-circle approach to storytelling. Just when I thought Agatha couldn’t impress me anymore, she always does.
Maybe it’s time to now tackle all the Poirot books I haven’t yet read in chronological order. What do we think?
/ First Published in the UK by The Bodley Head in 1921. This edition is published by HarperCollins 2013.
/ 240 pages
/ Rating: 4/5