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14 January 2015

Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair At Styles

This is going to be far more of a ramble than a "review" so bear with me.

Growing up, I was spoiled by superstations. The biggest culprits being WOR and WPIX -- Channels 9 and 11 out of New York City. They aired the greats. They introduced me to Laurel & Hardy, Twilight Zone, The Three Stooges, F-Troop, Charlie Chan, Jim Rockford, Cary Grant, Danny Kaye ... and Agatha Christie. My absolute favorites were And Then There Were None and Murder On The Orient Express (it amused me to no end that Charlie Chan and Hercule Poirot were so similar ... of course, both being played by the late great Peter Ustinov).

Anyway, being quite young when I first started to watch them, I had yet to fall in to the "Must. Go. In. Order." mindtrap once I realized that they actually came in book form as well. My grandmother had several Agatha Christie books on her shelves and I would read them as best as I could and as often as I could. When I started to acquire the ebooks to lead up to this year's birthday read-a-thon I realized that I may not have ever read the very first: The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

(Do yourself a favor and get a hard copy ... or at least make sure that 
your e-copy indicates that it has the illustrations. They're pretty nifty.)

The tale is a first-person narrative given by Arthur Hastings (much like John Watson tells the tales of Sherlock Holmes).

Yay! I big puffy-heart LOVE Hastings! Especially the ITV Hastings. Ooooh Hugh Fraser and those eyes ... SO much dreamier than the Hastings of my youth. Seriously. The best part of the TV adaptations has been the increased presence of Hastings as he only really appeared in eight out of thirty-three Poirot novels.

Anyway, back to the novel at hand.

Hastings is off to stay with his old friend, John Cavendish, and his rather dysfunctional family -- wife, brother, stepmother, her new husband, her niece and several servants. During an early conversation with John's beguiling wife, Mary, she asks Hastings what he might do with himself now that he's back.

So, yes. This is the first Hercule Poirot novel ... but we don't even see the little fellow until Hastings literally runs into him about 10% in:

It is quite the stroke of luck that Poirot is so close since, of course, a mysterious death occurs a short time later. It's John's stepmother and he asks Hastings to have Poirot investigate. Poirot agrees and Hastings tries to help.His earlier mention of using his friend's method of detection but having "progressed rather further" is seen to be a bit of an exaggeration.

Often left in the dark with what his little friend is thinking, Hastings still tags along hoping to come up with some way to be of use and show his worth.

Suspects are plentiful, of course. Even we, the readers, are left to wonder "who-done-it," what Poirot is thinking, and whether any of his "little ideas" ever mean anything at all. That's one of the glorious things, I believe. We go along for the ride with Hastings and the rest of the crew wondering what the heck is going on.

Arrests are made, acquittals are made, and at times even Poirot is frustrated that things don't seem to be falling into place. Then voilà! Poirot calls everyone together and reveals all -- arranging all of the facts into their proper places and making sense of it all.

Is it the best mystery novel ever written?
Of course not.
Is it well worth reading?
Mais oui, mes amis.

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