The Mysterious Affair at Styles By Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie is considered to be the most popular writer of all time. Born in 1890, she launched her literary career in 1920 with the publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles. She went on to write 93 books and 17 plays. More than a century later, her books continue to entertain readers. The Mysterious Affair at Styles introduces Hercule Poirot, and his assistant, Captain Hastings. Captain Hastings has just been invalided out of the army and is taking a holiday with a friend in the English countryside. Hastings is surprised to discover that Hercule Poirot is also staying in the same community. Poirot is a retired policeman from Belgium who has escaped to England for the duration of the war.
When the inevitable murder takes place, Hercule Poirot is called upon to assist the family in finding the culprit. This is a family of some standing and they do not want their affairs exposed to outsiders, and of course do not believe that one of their own is the murderer. Poirot is considered to be discreet and, as he is recommended by Hastings, he is accepted by the family.
Poirot is a delightful character. He is a tidy little man, he is vain and he, with his “little grey cells”, is always the one to figure out the solution to the mystery long before anyone else. Captain Hastings is a trusting and somewhat naive man, likeable and caring, and he provides - usually unwittingly - some of the clues that Poirot is seeking. They are assisted by Inspector Japp, the Scotland Yard detective, who readily acknowledges Poirot’s brilliance and can never quite figure out how he does it when he brings them all together to announce the name of the murderer.
This first novel, in Agatha Christie’s series of Hercule Poirot stories, is a delight to read. We have Hercule Poirot explaining his methods to Hastings. Poirot says “One fact leads to another - so we continue. Does the next fit in with that? Good! We can proceed. This next little fact - no! Ah, that is curious! There is something missing - a link in the chain that is not there. We examine. We search. And that little curious fact, that paltry little detail that will not tally, we put it here!” as he makes an extravagant gesture with his hand. “Beware! Peril to the detective who says ‘it is so small - it does not matter. It will not agree. I will forget it.’ That way lies confusion! Everything matters.”
Poirot relies on logic as he tells Hastings “You give too much rein to your imagination. Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is usually the most likely”. But it is often the questions asked in innocence by Hastings that shed a light on the solution, and his observations of puzzling events that contribute to the successful conclusion of the mystery. In this case, Poirot has been puzzled over the whereabouts of the possible murderer until Hastings indicates that he saw the man elsewhere. When asked by Poirot why he hadn’t been told. Hastings exclaims “My dear Poirot, I never thought it would interest you. I didn’t know it was of any importance.”
No wonder we read them them still - and over and over again.