Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Mud Puddle Books, 2006 (originally published 1920); 222 pages

I'm reading or rereading all of Agatha Christie's works in publication order this year (and the next year and however long it takes me). Here's my first entry on that subject.

My first book of 2014 is also Agatha Christie's first novel and the first of the Hercule Poirot series. Arthur Hastings, home on convalescence after being injured during World War I* is invited to an old friend's country home, Styles Manor. Shortly after Hastings' arrival at the house, his friend's stepmother is murdered. Providentially, another old friend of Hastings', famous detective Hercule Poirot, happens to be living in the village because the stepmother provided the money for some Belgians to immigrate to England to escape wartime Belgium. Because he can't resist a crime and because he is grateful to the stepmother, Poirot agrees to solve the murder.

This really isn't a terrible mystery, but compared to other Christie works, it's not her best. The plot is much "looser" than is typical of a Christie novel--everyone is accused of the crime at least once, Poirot is much too cryptic (I don't try to solve mysteries as I read, and even I was getting frustrated with the way he kept suppressing the clues), and the middle part of the book meanders too much while the ending is too rushed. Also, Hastings is unsurpassedly stupid. Poirot and Hastings have a sort of Holmes-and-Watson relationship, but Watson was never quite this frustrating.

*I wonder if Christie actually wrote this during World War I, since her next novel, The Secret Adversary is set in the post-war era but this one is not.

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