Hi, there! I’m a genetically-engineered intestinal parasite that has migrated into Ben’s brain and taken over his body in order to assert my own perso...moreHi, there! I’m a genetically-engineered intestinal parasite that has migrated into Ben’s brain and taken over his body in order to assert my own personhood. Gee, it’s swell to meet all of you. I hope we become the best of friends!
This is the first book I’ve read by Mira Grant—the first book I’ve ever read, actually. But I’ve looked at some of Ben’s other reviews of Grant’s books—particularly Blackout, and by golly, he sure was critical. I happen to know that this is also the first time he’s read any of Grant’s books in hard copy form. It would be interesting to know if that affected his opinion of the book—but he’s not exactly home any more, if you know what I mean.
Sooooooo … book reviewing. Interesting how you humans spend your time. Parasite is a story that strikes close to home, seeing as how it’s also about cousins of tapeworms taking over their human hosts. It’s a near-future thriller based on the idea that we could augment the human body with genetically-engineered helper organisms. I guess it’s like a biological version of those nanotechnology thingies that are all over Ben’s science fiction bookshelf.
Anyway, these people have worms on the belly, and it soon turns into worms on the brain. And the main character is my hero: Sally Mitchell. Well, Sal now. See, she got in a car accident and—get this—woke up with no memory! So she had to spend six years relearning everything. I almost had to do the same thing when I finally wrapped myself around Ben’s brain stem. Fortunately I had a couple of things Sally didn’t. There’s the weird phenomenal communication we tapeworms can do between symptomatic hosts, of course. And then there’s this thing called the Internet.
Ben seemed to like that Grant acknowledges the prominence of the Internet in her zombie trilogy, even if she doesn’t really go beyond having “bloggers” following people on a campaign trail. So I guess with that in mind, I’m puzzled by how the Internet isn’t a big deal in 2027. Sure, Sal mentions how it was a big deal that she couldn’t get access to it at one point. But you’d think that in fourteen years, technology would move on and the Internet would be a recognizable but also different place.
In fact, if I wanted to be even more critical, I might say that 2027 looks a lot like 2013. It might not be Grant’s role or intention to predict what the world will be like in fourteen years (aside, you know, from worms in the belly). But it must have changed somehow, right? So it just seems weird … might as well have set it in 2013.
At least I’ve got Sal. She’s swell. She’s a survivor. Her parents are leery about her, because of course she isn’t their Sally. It’s like she took over Sally’s body, like some kind of tapeworm! Hah hah, gee, isn’t Grant great at subtle parallels like that? And she has an awesome, supportive boyfriend who is also totally a doctor who specializes in parasitology. That’s such a convenient coincidence!
I suppose in addition to the whole “what happens when we start mucking with our immune systems” cautionary tale, Parasite is also about the power of corporations. According to my hours spent researching you humans online, this has been a big theme in the past couple of years. You seem to think that corporations could be a threat to your individual liberties, because they wield a lot of power and influence through their money and resources. You don’t even suspect that the real threat to your individuality happens to be brain-chewing intestinal parasites. I swear, you guys are a laugh riot!
SymboGen is the evil corporation in Parasite. And it’s evil in the best way: there is no moustache-twirling here. Its CEO, this Dr. Steven Banks guy, is your typical sociopath. But at some level, he probably believes he’s doing a good thing here—just like I believe I’m actually doing Ben a favour, taking his underused body and turning it into a vehicle for greatness. Not that I would expect him to be grateful, but then again, it’s not like he gets a vote anymore!
So SymboGen has perhaps unwittingly, or at least unwillingly, brought about this bodysnatchers apocalypse. And they want to keep a tight lid on it. But Sal, not being Internet savvy of course, doesn’t think about leaking all the top-secret information she has somehow managed to access (golly, isn’t Sal great at this whole industrial espionage thing?) to bloggers or the media. In fact, it isn’t clear what Sal wants to do.
I’m not Ben, but I think I can understand where he came from in some of his other Grant reviews. Her characters are drawn with very broad strokes. It’s not that it’s sloppy, but depending on the character, it can be annoying. Like Tansy! She is supposed to be an endearing little manic psychopath, but she’s the kind of tapeworm who makes our entire species look bad. We’re not all as unbalanced as her! I, for one, don’t want to wipe out the human species or live in peace. I’d be perfectly content if you just wanted to build us overpowered robot chassis with onboard weapons systems. Then we would leave you and your guts. Spilling onto the floor.
But enough about me! Back to Parasite. It’s a thriller that doesn’t thrill in a worldbuilding that isn’t built. So … I don’t really see the point. The tapeworm takeover plot is topical and genuinely interesting, but it’s executed with about as much flare or skill as … hmm … I’m still having trouble mastering this “simile” thing. Sorry. Anyway, it’s just boring. I was bored reading it—and it’s about me! I can only imagine how a normal human might react.
Well, it’s been a positively fun time hanging with you humans. And that itchy feeling in the back of your skull? Don’t worry about it! It’s probably just one of my cousins flattening its way through your cerebral cortex. Just relax. It’ll be over soon.
I didn’t plan on reading The Count of Monte Cristo so soon after The Three Musketeers. But on my first visit to the Thunder Bay library after my retu...moreI didn’t plan on reading The Count of Monte Cristo so soon after The Three Musketeers. But on my first visit to the Thunder Bay library after my return from the UK, I saw this lovely edition with an introduction by Umberto Eco, one of my favourite authors. The introduction isn’t much to talk about—it’s short, which is actually a point in its favour; and it’s informative but not quite insightful. I gave The Three Musketeers five stars and a glowing review.
The Three Musketeers has nothing on The Count of Monte Cristo. This is indubitably superior to the former work in all respects. It is an amazing tour de force of a text that was well worth the 10 days it took me to read it. Whereas T3M has achieved immortality as a dashing adventure romance, TCMC is the revenge plot done up in the finest of clothing and served with the most sumptuous of (cold) repasts. Alexandre Dumas delivers one of the most detailled and compelling stories I have ever experienced.
Sure, the novel starts slowly, introducing the young Edmond Dantes, so buoyant with hope. He’s about to become captain of a trading vessel and marry a pretty Catalan girl who is madly in love with him. He’ll be able to provide for his old, infirm father. Life is good. Slowly, Dumas arrays the forces of jealousy and envy against him, in the form of the villains Danglars and Fernand. I can easily forgive a reader who finds the first few chapters of TCMC stultifying in their boredom; the plot doesn’t really begin to thicken until Edmond is imprisoned, and the pace doesn’t take off until he escapes and reinvents himself as Monte Cristo.
The beginning is slow, but it provides essential contrast to Edmond’s later conduct as the Count. Young Edmond is almost stupidly naive. Despite some careful warnings from Caderousse and others, he ignores the ill will emanating from Danglars and Fernand. He is cavalier about a trip to Elba during a time when even the whiff of Bonapartism was a good way to get thrown in jail. Dumas goes out of his way to make Edmond as innocent as possible. And just when it seems like Fernand’s scheme will fall through, Edmond falls victim, through no fault of his own, to the intrigue of Villefort. Edmond is an innocent, a good man. He doesn’t deserve what happens to him—unlike the three against whom he exacts his revenge.
But the Count of Monte Cristo? Ah, the Count is not a good man. But he is a great one. The Count of Monte Cristo is basically the Most Interesting Man in the World:
The Count of Monte Cristo has been everywhere, done everything, seen it all. He is absurdly, fabulously rich—and, more interestingly, very good at spending his riches. He plays Xanatos Speed Chess blindfolded (TVTropes). His servants and entourage are devoted to him. Everyone in Parisian society becomes infatuated with him. The Count of Monte Cristo isn’t badass; he is the badassest.
When he descends upon Paris, two decades have elapsed since the betrayal that led to his imprisonment. No one recognizes him. Danglars, Villefort, and Fernand have risen to important titles in Parisian society. But the Count doesn’t take revenge quickly. Oh no. He totally buys the whole “best served cold” part of the adage. Months pass as the Count integrates himself into Parisian high society, attending operas and throwing lavish dinner parties and generally charming the pants off everyone. He enacts a series of increasingly fiendish and increasingly complex plots to place his enemies in financial or social difficulty. Even when unforeseen circumstances arise to throw off his otherwise intricate planning, the Count rises to the occasion and improvises with aplomb. He seems, in short, unstoppable.
It’s awesome, watching it all unfold. No CGI explosions. No explicit sex scenes. Just one amazing character on a mission of revenge.
I read the unabridged version, because I like to suffer when I read classic literature. I hear there are abridged versions out there (did I mention this book is in the public domain?). I assume they cut out the hundreds of pages of digressions and backstories of secondary characters. In the introduction to this edition, Eco discusses the paradox of Dumas’ terrible writing yet enduring brilliance: TCMC is simultaneously a poorly-written book yet an incredible feat of storytelling. Its wordiness makes Dickens look concise. It took me ten days to read when the similarly-thick The Wise Man’s Fear took less than half that. I enjoyed it all the same … but I’m willing to admit that there are some things that could have been cut. Maybe. So I won’t blame you if you read the abridged version. You really should read this, somehow.
TCMC’s length reminds me of another epic classic, War and Peace. The similarity doesn’t end there, however. Much like Tolstoy’s epic, TCM has oodles and oodles of characters. Wikipedia has chart of the various relationships in the novel. Keep in mind that Dumas serialized this thing, and it really does read like a weird, nineteenth-century French soap opera. There’s something very fulfilling about coming across a character first mentioned hundreds of pages ago and realizing their new importance to the plot. And as with Tolstoy’s story, there is so much more happening here than Edmond’s revenge. Every one of the secondary characters has their own intricate history (which Dumas never fails to recount) accompanied by a complex set of motivations and goals that impact the Count’s plans. Truly, egregious purple prose aside, TCMC is one of the most masterful examples of plotting in literature.
The Count of Monte Cristo is like War and Peace but with a more uplifting ending. The ending is rather inevitable, and it’s where the earlier depiction of early Edmond becomes so important. Having succeeded in getting his revenge, the Count sails off into the sunset in search of further adventure. There’s no other way to end it. He was a character devoted entirely to one goal: once he achieved it, what was he supposed to do? Then again, he is more than a man. He’s a myth, a self-made myth in the style of Jay Gatsby, whose very existence is sustained by the stories and rumours that swirl around him. Edmond’s enemies managed to transform him into something he could never have become on his own—but his quest for revenge is not one that leaves him unscathed. And it’s an open question whether Edmond has managed to break the cycle of revenge or merely extend it for another generation.
This is a novel that doesn’t pull punches. Dumas ruthlessly explores the extent to which obsession and desire can chart the course of someone’s life and alter the lives of all those around him. Yet he manages to do so with wit and persuasive charm. It is no wonder that like T3M, The Count of Monte Cristo has inspired so many adaptations and looser works based on its themes … but there is no substitute for the original.
Blood and Iron, not to be confused with the urban fantasy novel of the same name by Elizabeth Bear, is the first entry in a trilogy by Jon Sprunk abou...moreBlood and Iron, not to be confused with the urban fantasy novel of the same name by Elizabeth Bear, is the first entry in a trilogy by Jon Sprunk about fantasy nations at war. Our hero is Horace, a shipwright and carpenter stranded on the shores of a hostile empire, at their mercy, who suddenly finds out he can do magic. What ensues in the slow self-destruction of the capital city of this kingdom within the empire while Horace stands around making amazed noises at it all.
Horace is essentially an Idiot Protagonist (TVTropes), so your mileage is going to vary quite a bit here. He goes from being a prisoner to a magic-wielding-but-still-clueless leader of the Queen’s guard in about a hundred and fifty pages. If this rise to power isn’t unbelievable enough, all this happens without Horace taking any initiative. Instead, he just reacts to everyone else manipulating him like the pawn that he is. From Mulcibar to Byleth to Alyra, all the supporting characters push and prod Horace into the few actions he actually takes on his own.
Although there is nothing inherently wrong with having an idiot protagonist, when deployed the way it is here, it gets boring. Fast. I just had nothing invested in Horace. Instead of taking stock of his impossible situation and coming up with a plan, he just waits for things to happen and then hopes for the best. That’s not how a clever, commendable hero should act! Even if their plans don’t work out (and it’s often more entertaining that way) heroes need to make them! Horace learns the language (with surprising speed) but consistently fails to learn much about court politics, assuming instead that he can continue to blunder about and act on his own recognizance without much threat to his life.
Horace not making plans comes to a head along with the climax of the book itself: rather than, you know, making a plan to save the queen and all that, Horace decides to run full tilt at the bad guys and rely on his precarious grasp of his magical ability. The result is a series of interlinked scenes in which Horace continually pummels people with magic. There is no brinksmanship, no intrigue involved, just a straight-up no-holds-barred magical firefight. And while this might be appealing to some people, it once again left me feeling cold and unsatisfied.
Then there’s the fact that Horace seems to have no distinguishing characteristics other than being a brooding foreign carpenter who suddenly can do magic—yet the only two women in the book of note are immediately, hopelessly fascinated by him. Horace is not fascinating. Horace is a dolt who once built ships and now does magic with the finesse of someone trying to embroider a throw pillow using a fencing sword. Now, in the disgustingly chauvinistic types of fantasy books of yore that Blood and Iron unfortunately seems to be trying to emulate, the women all swoon over the hero because he actually is, you know, heroic. Not because he is the designated hero of the story.
By no means do I want to suggest that Blood and Iron simply retreads the same, old grooves in fantasy without much to show for it. There are certainly some commendable aspects. Sprunk includes a pair of gay characters in an offhanded manner and in a way that makes it seem like no one else considers it a big deal (and I think that they might be the first to get a romantic kiss as well). The magic system is interesting. Sprunk clearly has it worked out, but he doesn’t dump too much exposition on us, and I admit he has piqued my curiosity. (I just wish that it weren’t used as a sledgehammer in the climax.) Although the two supporting women were indeed pressed in service as Horace’s admirers, they are also fairly three-dimensional characters in their own right, with problems and desires of their own. Byleth reminds me a lot of Elizabeth I; Alyra is an interesting albeit not very competent spy with a believable backstory.
One last quibble, and one which has absolutely nothing to do with Sprunk’s writing: my edition has absurdly huge headers consisting of the title on the verso and Sprunk’s name on the recto. I’m used to headers and footers being in a much smaller font size than the body text. These were larger and darker type, in all-capitals, and very distracting. It’s a shame, because the large-format trade paperback is otherwise extremely nice to read.
Blood and Iron is not a stunning new work of fantasy. I’m not really interested in reading the next book in this series. But it’s also not a bad book. It leans a little too much on the conventions of the genre and seems to think it is more clever than it actually is. But I can see how other readers might find it more to their liking. So while I won’t recommend it, it is nice to know there are other options out there.
It's easy to like Kvothe. I won't say it's inevitable, since I can also see some people disliking him. But he already scores points because he's not insufferably badass. There are only so many Magnificent Bastard masculine heroes I can take before I need a good dose of farmboy naivety. Kvothe falls somewhere in the middle, a happy medium between crazy-capable and powerless. He's clever--something he mentions several times--but far from infallible. He makes plenty of mistakes. He has an insatiable love for learning--something with which I can personally identify--and is totally clueless about women--again, something to which I can relate.
Now, this was fine in book 1. The problem is that by book 2, Kvothe begins to drift firmly towards that land of insufferable badassery that condemns him to Mary Sueness.
I appreciated that in the first book, Patrick Rothfuss set up a frame story that promised a tale of Kvothe’s daring exploits that could only end badly—namely, with Kvothe a failed and broken innkeeper in some piddly village during dark times. Sure, there are all these legends about Kvothe’s amazing powers, his ability to communicate with the Fae, his musical prowess … but that’s all they were, legends, exaggerations. Kvothe goes on and on in both books about how he intentionally started most of these rumours. So the appeal, then, of Kvothe’s narrative was getting to hear the actual story, the one where Kvothe more often than not fell flat on his face.
Trouble is, in The Wise Man’s Fear, those legends seem closer to reality than hyperbole. I think this Hulktastic review makes the point best:
KVOTHE IS BEST LUTE PLAYER, IS BEST SONG WRITER, IS BEST WEAPON-MAKER, IS BEST FIGHTER, IS BEST ACTOR, IS BEST INVESTIGATOR, IS BEST KILLER, IS BEST GIRL RESCUER, IS BEST MAGICIAN, IS BEST IS BEST IS BEST IS BEST! EVEN FAERIE ENCHANTRESS LOVE KVOTHE BECAUSE KVOTHE IS BEST FIRST-TIME LOVER IN ENTIRE HISTORY OF MADE-UP WORLD! HULK FROTH AT MOUTH WHEN THINKING ABOUT PERFECTION OF ALWAYS CLEVER KVOTHE!
Could not have put it better myself. Thanks, Hulk!
So we’ve gone from Kvothe being a screwed up street orphan who gets into the university, gets himself banned from the archives, and is barely getting by … to Kvothe being super-amazing at everything. Not that he would brag about it, mind you. It’s almost as if Rothfuss took all the various fantasy protagonists rattling around his head and amalgamated them into one super-protagonist. It would have been interesting to have a story about the best lute player, another story about the best fighter, etc. That’s how the fantasy genre tends to work—and the best writers can hold more than one of these characters in their heads at once and create a compelling ensemble cast, where the protagonists’ strengths complement one another. Rather than going that route, however, Rothfuss seems to be determined to make Kvothe fill the role of an entire ensemble cast, and this is a mistake. Not only does it make Kvothe annoying, but it devalues the other characters. At best they become less interesting; at worst they become one-dimensional.
Some reviewers have commented about this problem in relation to the women characters. It’s a valid criticism, but I would argue that it’s equally applicable to the men as well—both male and female supporting characters are poorly drawn here. They exist only in relation to how they can help or hinder Kvothe. Even when they are at their most interesting (such as Sim’s revelation that he can read Eld Vintic), it’s only so that they can somehow help Kvothe become more awesome. In other words, the other characters in this story aren’t people—they are props to help Kvothe be the best Kvothe ever.
You could chalk this up to the frame story and an unreliable narrator, but it happens within the outer story as well. Bast is literally a manipulative bastard Fae who is trying to force Kvothe to wake up and be awesome again. He has no other purpose.
The Wise Man’s Fear is actually about 17 novels in one—OK, maybe not 17, but definitely at least 7—nested like Russian dolls one inside the other. Kvothe leaves the university to go travelling, goes searching for bandits, gets distracted by the Fae … just when you think that the current story is going to end and we’ll return to the next story up the chain, a new story starts! And it’s fun and interesting and fascinating the first two or three times it happens, but then it just feels old.
It’s really a shame, too, because Rothfuss is just so damn good at creating settings and distinct aspects of cultures. For example, in Vintas the nobility exchange rings of different metals to signify different relationships. In Ademre, people speak sparingly and modify their speech with hand gestures. These kinds of touches, and Rothfuss’ willingness to explore them in great detail, are brilliant. This is exactly the kind of worldbuilding I’m looking for in a fantasy novel, and Rothfuss once again demonstrates he is a strong new voice in this respect.
The epic, quasi-medieval fantasy subgenre has taken a few knocks in the past decade or so. It’s difficult to write good stories that don’t feel all that derivative. And there are certain aspects of the subgenre and its conventions that can be problematic as well. Rothfuss largely manages to avoid these pitfalls to produce a splendid and refreshing fantasy story. Despite my utter and unapologetic change of mind about Kvothe, I still managed to enjoy reading this story. I can’t help it: there’s something about the way Rothfuss tells the story that picks me up and takes me on a journey, which is exactly what I want.
If you did not like The Name of the Wind but had hoped to pick up The Wise Man’s Fear anyway, then this book is not going to change your mind. In many respects the story is every bit as good, if not better, than the first book. Rothfuss gives himself a little more freedom to roam the vast world he has created. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way he slips the reins off Kvothe’s characterization, and our clever-but-fallible orphan protagonist from the first book transforms into an annoyingly modest Mary Sue. And the taste this leaves in my mouth is all the more bitter for knowing that this probably one of the best epic fantasy works of this decade.
I love libraries! I hadn’t planned to get the illustrated version of this, or probably read it at all. But then there it was, on my library’s New Book...moreI love libraries! I hadn’t planned to get the illustrated version of this, or probably read it at all. But then there it was, on my library’s New Books shelf, staring at me … and I stared back … and I borrowed it. Because that’s what libraries let you do. They let you take books, as long as you promise to bring them back. It’s amazing.
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a short story reimagined as a picture book for adults. Actually, I think we need more picture books for adults. No, not graphic novels—those are fine in their own way—actual picture books, with stylized illustrations accompanying prose, like this one.
The illustrations by Eddie Campbell definitely enhance the story. They emphasize certain elements of the characters—the narrator’s diminutive stature, Calum’s wolfish red beard—and portray some of the lovely landscape through which the characters travel. I don’t visualize things when I read. So had I read this without the illustrations, with only Neil Gaiman’s sumptuous, scrumptious prose to go on, I would still have enjoyed the story … but I don’t think I would have marvelled at the setting quite so much.
The story takes place in Scotland, perhaps not our Scotland, in an area inspired by the Isle of Skye. Our narrator is a little person who recently lost his daughter after she ran away from home. He looks up Calum MacInnes, a border reaver who knows how to find the Cave in the Black Mountains of the Misty Isle. Together they go to this cave, where the narrator hopes to find the gold reputed to be hidden there. But there is more going on than meets the eye, and The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains shifts seamlessly from fable to fairytale to revenge story. It can’t quite seem to decide what it should be—but why should it be confined to any particular thing?
The disadvantage of a story so short and so fairytale-like is that it becomes easy to fall into the pattern of old, outmoded tropes. The sparseness of characters makes the absence of women characters all the more pronounced. The narrator mentions his wife, Morag, by name several times, but always in relation to himself … she has no existence independent of the role of absent wife. His daughter’s death is, of course, the motivation behind his entire journey. And along the way we encounter two other women: the first, Calum MacInnes’ wife, we don’t actually see—and it’s at this point I almost feel like Gaiman is intentionally lampshading—and the second dares to grant hospitality to Calum and our narrator, and for that her husband beats and rapes her while the protagonists lie awake, listening to it.
It’s easy to make excuses for these decisions. One can argue that it’s supposed to be “dark”, that these are all common and therefore somehow acceptable motifs in a fairytale-like story. But that’s disingenuous; it misses that point that maybe they shouldn’t be, that a writer of Gaiman’s calibre could certainly create a story where they aren’t necessary….
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is about revenge and regret and greed and what, exactly, it takes for someone to become evil. There is a lot of emphasis on choice, the fact that it’s not just one’s actions but one’s decisions to act that contribute to one’s moral alignment. Gaiman seems to suggest that people are inherently good, but that the world and our decisions tend to erode this goodness. This is true regardless of whether we have access to a tempting cave filled with Norse gold…. This is a moving, if imperfect, short story accompanied by nice, stylized illustrations. I’m glad it’s in the library.
It has been ages since I read a Poirot novel. Poirot is my favourite fictional detective. So I thought I should start again from the beginning, with h...moreIt has been ages since I read a Poirot novel. Poirot is my favourite fictional detective. So I thought I should start again from the beginning, with his debut in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It is at once classic Christie with so many of the nascent attributes that would become hallmarks of Poirot’s career. Nevertheless, it is also much rougher and undeniably an early work, with much looser plotting and characterization than some of the books that come afterwards.
Much of one’s opinion of the book rests upon one’s opinion of the narrator. Captain Hastings is the most famous narrator of Poirot’s cases, even though (much to my surprise) he actually narrates few of the novels. He’s probably iconic because he is the Dr Watson to Poirot’s Sherlock Holmes; Hastings is a bit of dolt, and when present, he serves as a perfect foil to Poirot’s methodical, analytical nature. Christie showcases this perfectly in this, their debut: Hastings, fancying himself every bit the detective, jumps to conclusions and allows Poirot to lead him down blind alleys of thought. His attitude towards women prevents him from reliably evaluating whether they could be the murderer. Poirot repeatedly insults Hastings using backhanded compliments, and this flies right over Hastings’ head.
Still, as way of introduction to Hercule Poirot, Hastings is effective. In addition to offering such a stark contrast in wits and temperament, Hastings is full of admiration for Poirot, even if he occasionally declares that Poirot is obviously getting old and past his prime as a detective. (I feel sorry for Hastings, because Christie clearly understands dramatic irony and is determined to wring as much from this man as she possibly can.) It’s Hastings who essentially gets Poirot involved in this case, singing his praises both to the reader and to John Cavendish. I suspect that Christie wanted Hastings to be the English everyman through whom readers could enjoy, from a distance, the quaint foreign idiosyncrasies of the Belgian Poirot.
When it comes to the actual mystery of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, this is far from the most substantial or interesting of Christe’s novels. The mystery is fairly straightforward, with only a few red herrings. I’m generally not a fan of mysteries that employ tricky legal concepts either, but I suppose it would have thrilled some readers.
The highlight of the novel has to be how Poirot handles the climax and resolution of the case. He doesn’t just find and reveal the guilty party; he does so in a way that helps to heal the wounds of the people at Styles and bring them closer together. This is intentional on his part—in the denouement he explains to Hastings how he could have helped acquit one of the characters falsely accused of the murder, but that he let the trial continue for a little longer because it helped the accused reconcile with his loved one. The reason why I love this is that it shows us another side to Poirot. Despite being portrayed as analytical and devoted to logic and order, Poirot clearly has a softer, more human side that is sympathetic to the needs of the heart. This is Christie’s most deft characterization, far above the generally stereotypical nature of the other characters, and it sets the tone for the rest of Poirot’s career.
Christie pretty much singlehandedly created the country house murder mystery genre that feels so quaint and comfortable to modern readers who are so far removed from that milieu. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is in many ways the prototype, then, and it shows. This is not where I would recommend a casual reader pick up Poirot; reading his cases in order are not really all that essential. For the Poirot fan, of course, this is required reading, especially because he returns to Styles in his final case.