Alison's Reviews > The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
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May 04, 12

Read in May, 2012

The first time I read The Mysterious Affair at Styles I was too young to appreciate most of it. This time, coming back to it, there are certain details about it that I really like, much more than when I read it the first time. For one thing, it takes place at a time that is now seeing a resurgence of interest, post World War I. The world has changed in so many ways, yet Christie's writing, the structure, pace and plot, could have been written recently, it seems that new and fresh. Of great interest to me is the period itself, which writers seemed to overlook for a long, long time. Currently, the only writer I can think of who uses this period in which to set his stories is Charles Todd, the mother/son pair who write the Inspector Ian Rutledge murder mystery series.

Rereading Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first featuring Poirot, reminds me that Christie was always a writer who skimmed the surface of characterisation, never focusing deeply on the psychology of any of her characters. In that way, she was very much like other women writers of her time (Margery Allingham comes to mind) who wrote during the Golden era of crime and mystery. It's a minor complaint I have about Christie mysteries, that they aren't terribly deep, that she sacrifices characters to her plot to some extent.

She relies on what the characters say, to themselves and one another, to convey their character. Beyond that, we know who's wearing the white hat, who the black, through their actions, and through the moralising responses of other characters. We never really see deeply into Poirot's soul. His compatriot, Hastings, also introduced in this book, seems a pompous ass, although a well-meaning one. I find it interesting that over time, Christie ended up detesting Poirot.

Christie's first murder mystery, written in 1916 but not published until 1920 (she had trouble finding a publisher and received a list of rejections) had an energy and enthusiasm I had forgotten she possessed early on in her career. Her later works are so much more detailed, with complicated plotting; this story is simple, but contains many of the elements she relied on—a devious family, various wills, lots of money to inherit, difficult marriages, extramarital affairs. The themes she would use over and over, in different ways, with varying emphasis, all exist in this first book.

Considering it was her first murder mystery (she wrote romances under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott) it is developed and mature, especially when compared to her later efforts, such as the apotheosis effort Murder on the Orient Express her arguably tightest construction, with its powerful plot and devious twists and turns. Mysterious Affair at Styles is an early signal of her ability to create her later, strongest works.

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