The Mysterious Affair At Styles

Emily Inglethorp is a wealthy women living with her much younger second husband at Styles Court, her large, isolated, manor house in Styles St.Mary. There are seven people living at Styles: Emily’s step-sons from her first husbands first marriage, John and Lawrence Cavendish; John’s wife Mary, Emily’s companion Evelyn and a young friend of the family Cynthia Murdoch. A group of people all with some connection to each other and all with their own assortment of secrets.

Arthur Hastings has been invalided from the Front and after a spell in a convalescent home has been given a months sick leave. Wondering what to do he runs into his old friend John Cavendish who invites him to spend his leave at Styles, with the family. The house and Emily, Hastings remembers well although he hasn’t been there for years. Tea is spread in the shade of a sycamore tree and Hastings tells them of his hope to be a detective after the war. Indeed, while in Belgium he came across a very famous detective ‘he quite inflamed me. . . He was a funny little man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever.’ And then on a trip into Tadminster who should Hastings bump into when buying some stamps, but his old friend:

‘”Mon ami Hastings”!’ he cried. “It is indeed mon ami Hastings”!
“Poirot!” I exclaimed.’

With much gratitude, Poirot explains that through the charitable works of Mrs Inglethorp, he is one of a group of Belgium refugees who are living together in Tadminster. So the scene is set and everyone is quickly in place for a good dose of poisoning by strychnine.

Written in 1916 and published in instalments in The Times Weekly Review, (before being published as a novel in 1921) this is Christie’s first novel and I find her confidence just amazing. The country house setting, a small group of connected suspects and the red herrings are all here right from the beginning but it’s the characters that really astound me. Poirot, Inspector Japp and in particular Hastings were exactly as I expected them. The story is narrated by Hastings at the request of Poirot and the family and straight away it was a familiar voice:

‘I was trying to make up my mind what to do, when I ran across John Cavendish. I had seen very little of him for some years. Indeed, I had never known him particularly well. He was a good fifteen years my senioir, for one thing, though he hardly looked his forty-five years.’

And he’s off. With his clipped diction and that lovely languid charm that rises so delightfully to Poirot’s bait and is always smitten by a beautiful women:

‘I shall never forget my first sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall, slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense of slumbering fire that seemed to find expression only in those wonderfully tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, different from any other women’s that I have ever known; the intense power of stillness she possessed, which nevertheless conveyed the impression of a wild untamed spirit in an exquisitely civilized body – all these things are burnt into my memory. I shall never forget them.’

What a romantic, I think that’s a positive swoon and worthy of a Classics Club Valentine swoon badge!

The edition I read contains the original ending in a supplementary chapter with Poirot giving evidence from the witness box. On her publishers advice Christie rewrote this chapter and replaced the courtroom with the drawing room and created a scene that is now so familiar for the Big Revelation. Poirot is able to hold forth before his captive audience and bask in their stunned adulation!

29 thoughts on “The Mysterious Affair At Styles

  1. I didn’t know it was her publishers who came up with the idea of the drawing-room reveal – she owes them for that! Haha, I agree about Hastings’ swoonworthiness, and feel the same about Dr Watson and his romantic heart. Poirot I did think was a little different than he becomes later – doesn’t he jump in a car and drive off in pursuit of a suspect at one point? But it’s a great debut novel – glad you enjoyed it! 😀

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    1. I’m not sure if they actually said ‘drawing room’ or just ‘rewrite’ and she came up with the drawing room, but I’m glad it happened, the outcome was the same just a bit more drama for Poirot! I thought Poirot was slightly more ‘flighty’ perhaps than later on but on the whole I just thought how amazingly confident she must have been in her creations!

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  2. I love this one too. Hastings is divine! Thinking about Hastings and indeed Poirot himself, they’ve become such bastions in our collective consciousness after all the tv shows etc that it’s important to remember they were originally created in the young Christie’s imagination. What an achievement, even without the actual plot 😊

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    1. A real achievement indeed, I was amazed by it as a debut novel. Evidently it was a great honour to have your book chosen for instalments in The Times Weekly Review and so for her to achieve this with her first book was incredible!

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    1. I don’t think I’ve read Death on the Nile although I’ve seen the films. I’m going to put a bit more work into Christie and wanted to see how it all started first! There’s a new film coming isn’t there? I really hope it’s good. . .

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    1. I know! When I started reading I couldn’t believe it really. Poirot, I thought was slightly different, but only slightly and she just seemed so in control of her material. Amazing.

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  3. Cool about the alternative ending.
    Last year I finished my project of listening to all of Hercule Poirot. So right now I’m reading Agatha Christie Poirot, by Mark Aldridge, as a conclusion to my project. Before reading this book, I had no idea about the different endings and variations. It’s actually a bit disturbing in the purist in me. Which version should be really considered best? The one she first had in mind, or the one she came up with when she was pestered by publishers, or to fit the serialized format for the newspaper – and again, big discovery, I didn’t know that lots of her books first came out as installments in newspapers

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    1. Good idea to read the Aldridge at the end, I’ll bear that in mind. Normally I hate being given alternative endings, I just want the one that was published and was actually quite cross that the edition I had included this ‘original’ ending. But I read it anyway and actually found it quite interesting, but that is probably because it was a first book and I’m always interested in the way writers’ hone their craft (even if it is because of pesky publishers!) I don’t think I’ll go looking for alternative endings – congratulations on finishing your project!

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  4. This was one of the first Christie novels I read, but it was so long ago I’ve forgotten all the details of the plot and should really read it again one day. I still have lots of other unread Poirots to get through first, though!

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  5. This was the second Poirot mystery I read (I began with ‘Evil Under the Sun’ because I was staying opposite the island that that inspired the novel’s setting) and I used the same edition as you quote, with the original ending. I sort of suspected who the murderer was, but not the howdunit or the whydunit, so I didn’t get past the wily writer’s defences!

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    1. I never know who, why or how! I love reading books in their settings, where is Evil Under the Sun based? May be if I get myself organised I can do the same. . .

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  6. Interesting about the original ending! I didn’t know about that. As it happens, I just finished the last Poirot book, Curtain, which also takes place at Styles. It refers a lot to the first story (including Poirot teasing Hasting about falling in love no less than two times…) and it was filled with nostalgia. I think I need to reread The Mysterious Affair soon!

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      1. I seem to remember she wrote Curtain in the 40s during the war. It was uncertain times and she wanted to be sure to give Poirot (and Miss Marple) a worthy last book. It was published after her death.

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  7. I’m joining the club of those who didn’t know there was another ending originally to this story. I love the quotes you’ve used and enjoyed the contrast between Poirot and Hastings’ when they greeted each other. Hard to believe Agatha Christie could do all of this so well in her first novel.

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  8. Lovely review, Jane! This takes me back to the days of my youth when I worked my way through quite a lot of Christie’s mysteries (mostly the Marples and Poirots) courtesy of the local library. Christie is so good with plotting and character, isn’t she? No wonder her books have stood the test of time…

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    1. I read quite a few years ago and then just left them, but since I’ve been blogging she comes up so often that I felt the need to go back to her!

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  9. I would have liked to have read a copy with the alternate ending in it. At one point I had resolved to read through the Christie mysteries in series order but after this one and the following book (something about golf? heheh) I wasn’t smitten. A little more backstory might have pulled me in from a different angle. Perhaps I’ll try again another time, in that mood.

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    1. I always like a bit of backstory too, but I suppose because I know where they’re heading and already love the characters (especially Hastings) I was interested to see where they started. Golf next? hmmm!

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  10. One of my favorite Poirot novels! There is also a beautiful audiobook read by Hugh Fraser himself. I loved him as Hastings in the series with David Suchet and it was not surprising to find out that he is great at reading audiobooks, too.

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    1. I haven’t listened to the audio books but I can imagine Hugh Fraser doing a brilliant job, I should get one ready next time I’m on a long journey, he is perfect as Hastings!

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