Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Murder Mysteries: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie


Unlike the sense of occasion that Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes work A Study in Scarlet has in the way Watson's narration reveals to us a detective with (literally) superhuman powers of deduction, Hercule Poirot is treated as any other character. All Holmes lacks is a superman cape, in contrast Poirot is as human as a detective gets. 

Something is not right at Styles Court, England. Even as the shadow of World War I looms, new hostilities have taken root at Styles ever since the old Mrs Inglethorp took a younger husband. Her step children, dipped in financial problems, are now wary of what will become of them. Even as the old lady's close companion leaves the house after an altercation, the visiting Arthur Hastings sees that all is not right. Soon enough, a murder is committed.  

First published in 1920, The Mysterious Affairs at Styles is an astonishing debut. Christie's Doyle inspiration is only seen in casting Arthur Hastings (Watson to Poirot) as second fiddle and narrator. Hastings  is often piqued by Poirot's excitement, he frequently doubts that the bald headed Belgian is getting old. Nowhere is Poirot allowed to loom as the central figure. He has a passion for method and order; doesn't claim to have knowledge of all forms of cigar ash or of the exact origin of the earth stuck in a suspect's shoes. Instead, he has a sharp mind and common sense. Imbibing all that has occurred, taking in each detail, fitting in the pieces, playing a slow game of chess with his 'grey cells', Poirot unearths the truth systematically and painstakingly.

What is more chilling and awe-inspiring is Christie's genius. Like her British film contemporary Alfred Hitchcock, Christie had a thing for fitting in crime into ordinary, every day situations. Acute knowledge of poisons was Christie's forte, and somewhere between what seemed to have occurred and what had actually transpired, Christie built her intrigue.


(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

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