With Agatha Christie’s Poirot being available on Netflix, I thought now will be a good time to reattempt reading Agatha Cristie novels. I like to do things in order, so the book I picked is Agatha Cristie’s first published novel which also introduced Hercule Poirot to the world. According to John Curran’s Introduction, The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the result of a dare from Agatha Cristie’s sister Madge, a writer herself, who challenged Cristie to write a good detective story.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is narrated by Arthur Hastings. While on sick leave from the West Front, Hastings accidently runs into John Cavendish, a childhood friend, who invites Hastings to Styles Mannar House where Hastings had stayed often. Styles Court is owned by Emily, stepmother of John and Lawrence Cavendish. It turns out when their father died, he left Styles Court and most of his wealth to Emily than his children from his first marriage – an arrangement most would deem unfair. But Emily is a woman with a big heart. She treats her stepsons generously and, John and Lawrence in return love her as they would have loved their own mother.
However, Emily’s recent remarriage to Alfred Inglethorp who is twenty years younger to her seems to be jeopardizing her relationship with her sons. John and Lawrence see Alfred as a threat to finally owning the wealth which is rightfully theirs in the event of Emily’s death. Alfred, in return, does not do anything to ease their doubts. When Emily gets murdered in a room with doors locked from inside, this whodunit puzzles everyone in the household and the Scotland Yard. It is then only Hastings’ old friend, Poirot, who was also a beneficiary of Emily’s benevolence as a Belgian fleeing World War I, steps into solving this peculiar mystery.
I suspected almost everyone in the household except the servants for the crime. Alfred was a likely candidate because he was the husband. Lawrence kept insisting that Emily’s death must have caused naturally when evidence pointed at poisoning, and that struck me unusual because he had studied medicine. Mary, John’s wife was a suspect because I didn’t know what to make of her relationship with Dr. Bauerstein, a toxicologist. Cynthia Murdoch, Emily’s ward slept soundly on the night of the murder amidst all the chaos, even though her room is next to Emily’s which was fishy. John was too forthcoming and helpful with the investigations, causing me to raise my guard against him. The only person I did not suspect is Evelyn Howard, Emily’s companion who had left the house after a dispute with Emily about Alfred. Evelyn had an alibi for the night of the murder. But I had forgotten she is a second cousin of Alfred. Otherwise, I would have suspected her too!
When the murderer was finally revealed, I realized how ingenious the plot was. There were so many red herrings! If it had not been for Poirot, this would have been a perfect crime. And Poirot also found his “last link” that would solve the mystery only thanks to his fanatical love of order! 😀 While I appreciate the stroke of genius the murderer demonstrated in planning and executing the crime, I found all the theatrics involved with it a bit too hard to believe. That is my only beef with the novel.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles TV episode mostly remains true to the novel. There is no Dr. Bauerstein in the TV episode, but that is ok. He does not have a major role in the novel. The TV episode also does not tell the viewers that Emily is actually Cavendish’s stepmother. I felt that it is too big a piece of information to be left out. I do not think I would have suspected John or Lawrence for the crime if Emily was their biological mother. Other than that, the adaptation is truly remarkable!
David Suchet’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot in the TV episode is outstanding, so it is definitely worth the watch. However, if you want the thrill of trying to figure out the murderer, I think you should read the book. If you do not know what to look for, there are clues that might go unnoticed when you are watching the TV episode. So this time, I call it a draw!