A few weeks ago, I was looking at the list of Most Popular and Recommended Cozy Mystery Series and was surprised to see that I had never written about any of the series written by Agatha Christie! So, in order to correct that oversight, I picked up the first book in the Hercule Poirot series and re-read, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
The Hercule Poirot series preceded the also very popular Miss Marple series by a full ten years. So, although I think that Miss Marple is the prototypical Cozy sleuth, I decided to start with Poirot, who is also one of my favorites. I have written about Poirot a few times before, but never specifically about the books. Among other mentions of Poirot, I wrote about David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot, I used the first Poirot book as an example of a Cozy with a first person narrator, and I wrote about the Peter Ustinov movies where he played Poirot.
First, let me say that although the Poirot books do not meet all the characteristics that I describe in my definition of a Cozy (since Poirot is usually a paid private investigator and not an amateur sleuth), I do believe that the Poirot books are Cozy Mysteries since most of the features of Cozies are present.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the start of Poirot’s career in England. Poirot had been a detective with the Belgian police before the war (First World War), but in this first book, we learn that Poirot is living as a refugee from the conflict in England in the village of Styles St. Mary which is near the country house of Styles Court. Arthur Hastings, who had met Poirot in Belgium, is convalescing after being wounded in the war in the country house as the guest of John Cavendish, the step-son of Mrs Inglethorpe. Mrs. Inglethorp who had formerly been married to John’s father has recently remarried Alfred Inglethorp who is either or despised by most of people living in Styles Court. Before long, as expected in a mystery story, there is a murder and Poirot is brought in to help find the culprit.
This first book of the series has many of the hallmarks of Poirot’s finest adventures. Hastings is the narrator. Hastings fancies himself as something of a sleuth himself, but of course he is always several steps (if not miles) behind Poirot. Nevertheless, Hastings is one of my favorite Agatha Christie characters and I have to say that his absence in some of the later Poirot books makes them somewhat less enjoyable to me. Here we also meet Inspector Japp (later a Chief Inspector), who has a deep respect for Poirot. And, all of the characteristics of Poirot, including is egg-shaped head, his mustache, his insistence on “order and method” and his “little grey cells” are introduced here.
And, the plot has twists and complications that would have kept me guessing had I not read the book before and seen the story on the Suchet television series. Even knowing what was going to happen in the end did not diminish my enjoyment of the book. For such an early book by Christie (1920), her style and narrative ability are already clearly present. I really enjoyed re-reading it!
P.S. Some of the available editions do not contain the original sketches of the crime scene and reproductions of some of the evidence that is collected. I think it is worth the time to find an edition that does.
Also, some reproductions of the early editions have a (very) few words are considered offensive and inappropriate (and rightly so) today.