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The Mysterious Affair at Styles

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Overview

There has been a murder at Styles Court. Detective Poirot comes out of retirement to solve who would want the rich heiress Inglethorp dead, and would have the impudence to poison her. The jagged plot turns keep Poirot – and the reader – guessing as suspicion shifts from one peculiar character to the next.

In Agatha Christie’s first published work, the reader meets Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, destined to become the central detective of ...
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The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot Series)

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Overview

There has been a murder at Styles Court. Detective Poirot comes out of retirement to solve who would want the rich heiress Inglethorp dead, and would have the impudence to poison her. The jagged plot turns keep Poirot – and the reader – guessing as suspicion shifts from one peculiar character to the next.

In Agatha Christie’s first published work, the reader meets Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, destined to become the central detective of her mystery novels. If you like this book, you might also enjoy Mary Rinehart’s mystery The Amazing Interlude.

The audio edition which received the Mystery ->1997 Audie Award is read by David Suchet.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Though this may be the first public book of Miss Agatha Christie, she betrays the cunning of an old hand. . . . You may safely make a wager with yourself that until you have heard M. Poirot's final word on the mysterious affair at Styles, you will be kept guessing at its full solution and will certainly never lay down this most entertaining book. -- Books of the Century; New York Times review, December 1920
The New York Times
Though this may be the first public book of Miss Agatha Christie, she betrays the cunning of an old hand. . . . You may safely make a wager with yourself that until you have heard M. Poirot's final word on the mysterious affair at Styles, you will be kept guessing at its full solution and will certainly never lay down this most entertaining book. -- Books of the Century; New York Times review, December 1920
Library Journal
These are the initial eight volumes in what will grow to 24 over two years in Black Dog's new "Agatha Christie Collection." The books are all decent-quality hardcovers for a bargain price. If you're regularly replacing your Christies, gives these more durable editions a try. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781477467244
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
  • Publication date: 5/14/2012
  • Pages: 398
  • Sales rank: 1,031,602
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Agatha Christie
Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, DBE (born Miller; 15 September 1890 - 12 January 1976) was an English crime writer of novels, short stories, and plays. She also wrote six romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best remembered for the 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections she wrote under her own name, most of which revolve around the investigations of such characters as Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence. She also wrote the world's longest-running play, The Mousetrap.

Biography

Agatha Christie is the world's best-known mystery writer. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language, and another billion in 44 foreign languages. She is the most widely published author of all time in any language, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Her writing career spanned more than half a century, during which she wrote 79 novels and a short story collection, as well as 14 plays, one of which, The Mousetrap, is the longest running play in history. Two of the characters she created, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and the irrepressible and relentless Miss Marple, went on to become world famous detectives. Both have been widely dramatized in feature films and made-for-TV movies. Agatha Christie died in 1976.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Mary Westmacott (used for her romantic fiction)
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 15, 1890
    2. Place of Birth:
      Torquay, Devon, England
    1. Date of Death:
      January 12, 1976

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I

I Go to Styles

The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as "The Styles Case" has now somewhat subsided. Nevertheless, in view of the world-wide notoriety which attended it, I have been asked, both by my friend Poirot and the family themselves, to write an account of the whole story. This, we trust, will eVectually silence the sensational rumours which still persist.

I will therefore brieXy set down the circumstances which led to my being connected with the aVair.

I had been invalided home from the Front; and, after spending some months in a rather depressing Convalescent Home, was given a month's sick leave. Having no near relations or friends, 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 Wfteen years my senior, for one thing, though he hardly looked his forty-Wve years. As a boy, though, I had often stayed at Styles, his mother's place in Essex.

We had a good yarn about old times, and it ended in his inviting me down to Styles to spend my leave there.

"The mater will be delighted to see you again?after all those years," he added.

"Your mother keeps well?" I asked.

"Oh, yes. I suppose you know that she has married again?"

I am afraid I showed my surprise rather plainly. Mrs. Cavendish, who had married John's father when he was a widower with two sons, had been a handsome woman of middle-age as I remembered her. She certainly could not be a day less than seventy now. I recalled her as an energetic,autocratic personality, somewhat inclined to charitable and social notoriety, with a fondness for opening bazaars and playing the Lady Bountiful. She was a most generous woman, and possessed a considerable fortune of her own.

Their country-place, Styles Court, had been purchased by Mr. Cavendish early in their married life. He had been completely under his wife's ascendancy, so much so that, on dying, he left the place to her for her lifetime, as well as the larger part of his income; an arrangement that was distinctly unfair to his two sons. Their stepmother, however, had always been most generous to them; indeed, they were so young at the time of their father's remarriage that they always thought of her as their own mother.

Lawrence, the younger, had been a delicate youth. He had qualiWed as a doctor but early relinquished the profession of medicine, and lived at home while pursuing literary ambitions; though his verses never had any marked success.

John practised for some time as a barrister, but had Wnally settled down to the more congenial life of a country squire. He had married two years ago, and had taken his wife to live at Styles, though I entertained a shrewd suspicion that he would have preferred his mother to increase his allowance, which would have enabled him to have a home of his own. Mrs. Cavendish, however, was a lady who liked to make her own plans, and expected other people to fall in with them, and in this case she certainly had the whip hand, namely: the purse strings.

John noticed my surprise at the news of his mother's remarriage and smiled rather ruefully.

"Rotten little bounder too!" he said savagely. "I can tell you, Hastings, it's making life jolly diYcult for us. As for Evie?you remember Evie?"

"No."

"Oh, I suppose she was after your time. She's the mater's factotum, companion, Jack of all trades! A great sport?old Evie! Not precisely young and beautiful, but as game as they make them."

"You were going to say???"

"Oh, this fellow! He turned up from nowhere, on the pretext of being a second cousin or something of Evie's, though she didn't seem particularly keen to acknowledge the relationship. The fellow is an absolute outsider, anyone can see that. He's got a great black beard, and wears patent leather boots in all weathers! But the mater cottoned to him at once, took him on as secretary?you know how she's always running a hundred societies?"

I nodded.

"Well, of course the war has turned the hundreds into thousands. No doubt the fellow was very useful to her. But you could have knocked us all down with a feather when, three months ago, she suddenly announced that she and Alfred were engaged! The fellow must be at least twenty years younger than she is! It's simply bare-faced fortune hunting; but there you are?she is her own mistress, and she's married him."

"It must be a diYcult situation for you all."

"DiYcult! It's damnable!"

Thus it came about that, three days later, I descended from the train at Styles St. Mary, an absurd little station, with no apparent reason for existence, perched up in the midst of green Welds and country lanes. John Cavendish was waiting on the platform, and piloted me out to the car.

"Got a drop or two of petrol still, you see," he remarked. "Mainly owing to the mater's activities."

The village of Styles St. Mary was situated about two miles from the little station, and Styles Court lay a mile the other side of it. It was a still, warm day in early July. As one looked out over the Xat Essex country, lying so green and peaceful under the afternoon sun, it seemed almost impossible to believe that, not so very far away, a great war was running its appointed course. I felt I had suddenly strayed into another world. As we turned in at the lodge gates, John said:

"I'm afraid you'll Wnd it very quiet down here, Hastings."

"My dear fellow, that's just what I want."

"Oh, it's pleasant enough if you want to lead the idle life. I drill with the volunteers twice a week, and lend a hand at the farms. My wife works regularly 'on the land.' She is up at Wve every morning to milk, and keeps at it steadily until lunch-time. It's a jolly good life taking it all round?if it weren't for that fellow Alfred Inglethorp!" He checked the car suddenly, and glanced at his watch. "I wonder if we've time to pick up Cynthia. No, she'll have started from the hospital by now."

"Cynthia! That's not your wife?"

"No, Cynthia is a protégée of my mother's, the daughter of an old schoolfellow of hers, who married a rascally solicitor. He came a cropper, and the girl was left an orphan and penniless. My mother came to the rescue, and Cynthia has been with us nearly two years now. She works in the Red Cross Hospital at Tadminster, seven miles away."

As he spoke the last words, we drew up in front of the Wne old house. A lady in a stout tweed skirt, who was bending over a Xower bed, straightened herself at our approach.

"Hullo, Evie, here's our wounded hero! Mr. Hastings?Miss Howard."

Miss Howard shook hands with a hearty, almost painful, grip. I had an impression of very blue eyes in a sunburnt face. She was a pleasant-looking woman of about forty, with a deep voice, almost manly in its stentorian tones, and had a large sensible square body, with feet to match?these last encased in good thick boots. Her conversation, I soon found, was couched in the telegraphic style.

"Weeds grow like house aWre. Can't keep even with 'em. Shall press you in. Better be careful."

"I'm sure I shall be only too delighted to make myself useful," I responded.

"Don't say it. Never does. Wish you hadn't later."

"You're a cynic, Evie," said John, laughing. "Where's tea to-day?inside or out?"

"Out. Too Wne a day to be cooped up in the house."

"Come on then, you've done enough gardening for to-day. '"The labourer is worthy of his hire,' you know. Come and be refreshed."

"Well," said Miss Howard, drawing oV her gardening gloves, "I'm inclined to agree with you."

She led the way round the house to where tea was spread under the shade of a large sycamore.

A Wgure rose from one of the basket chairs, and came a few steps to meet us.

"My wife, Hastings," said John.

I shall never forget my Wrst sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall, slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense of slumbering Wre that seemed to Wnd expression only in those wonderful tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, diVerent from any other woman'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 civilised body?all these things are burnt into my memory. I shall never forget them.

She greeted me with a few words of pleasant welcome in a low clear voice, and I sank into a basket chair feeling distinctly glad that I had accepted John's invitation. Mrs. Cavendish gave me some tea, and her few quiet remarks heightened my Wrst impression of her as a thoroughly fascinating woman. An appreciative listener is always stimulating, and I described, in a humorous manner, certain incidents of my Convalescent Home, in a way which, I Xatter myself, greatly amused my hostess. John, of course, good fellow though he is, could hardly be called a brilliant conversationalist.

At that moment a well remembered voice Xoated through the open French window near at hand:

"Then you'll write to the Princess after tea, Alfred? I'll write to Lady Tadminster for the second day, myself. Or shall we wait until we hear from the Princess? In case of a refusal, Lady Tadminster might open it the Wrst day, and Mrs. Crosbie the second. Then there's the Duchess?about the school fête."

There was the murmur of a man's voice, and then Mrs. Inglethorp's rose in reply:

"Yes, certainly. After tea will do quite well. You are so thoughtful, Alfred dear."

The French window swung open a little wider, and a handsome white-haired old lady, with a somewhat masterful cast of features, stepped out of it on to the lawn. A man followed her, a suggestion of deference in his manner.

Mrs. Inglethorp greeted me with eVusion.

"Why, if it isn't too delightful to see you again, Mr. Hastings, after all these years. Alfred, darling, Mr. Hastings?my husband."

I looked with some curiosity at "Alfred darling." He certainly struck a rather alien note. I did not wonder at John objecting to his beard. It was one of the longest and blackest I have ever seen. He wore gold rimmed pince-nez, and had a curious impassivity of feature. It struck me that he might look natural on a stage, but was strangely out of place in real life. His voice was rather deep and unctuous. He placed a wooden hand in mine and said:

"This is a pleasure, Mr. Hastings." Then, turning to his wife: "Emily dearest, I think that cushion is a little damp."

She beamed fondly on him, as he substituted another with every demonstration of the tenderest care. Strange infatuation of an otherwise sensible woman!

With the presence of Mr. Inglethorp, a sense of constraint and veiled hostility seemed to settle down upon the company. Miss Howard, in particular, took no pains to conceal her feelings. Mrs. Inglethorp, however, seemed to notice nothing unusual. Her volubility, which I remembered of old, had lost nothing in the intervening years, and she poured out a steady Xood of conversation, mainly on the subject of the forthcoming bazaar which she was organizing and which was to take place shortly. Occasionally she referred to her husband over a question of days or dates. His watchful and attentive manner never varied. From the very Wrst I took a Wrm and rooted dislike to him, and I Xatter myself that my Wrst judgments are usually fairly shrewd.

Presently Mrs. Inglethorp turned to give some instructions about letters to Evelyn Howard, and her husband addressed me in his painstaking voice:

"Is soldiering your regular profession, Mr. Hastings?"

"No, before the war I was in Lloyd's."

"And you will return there after it is over?"

"Perhaps. Either that or a fresh start altogether."

Mary Cavendish leant forward.

"What would you really choose as a profession, if you could just consult your inclination?"

"Well, that depends."

"No secret hobby?" she asked. "Tell me?you're drawn to something? Every one is?usually something absurd."

"You'll laugh at me."

She smiled.

"Perhaps."

"Well, I've always had a secret hankering to be a detective!"

"The real thing?Scotland Yard? Or Sherlock Holmes?"

"Oh, Sherlock Holmes by all means. But really, seriously, I am awfully drawn to it. I came across a man in Belgium once, a very famous detective, and he quite inXamed me. He was a marvellous little fellow. He used to say that all good detective work was a mere matter of method. My system is based on his?though of course I have progressed rather further. He was a funny little man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever."

"Like a good detective story myself," remarked Miss Howard. "Lots of nonsense written, though. Criminal discovered in last chapter. Every one dumfounded. Real crime?you'd know at once."

"There have been a great number of undiscovered crimes," I argued.

"Don't mean the police, but the people that are right in it. The family. You couldn't really hoodwink them. They'd know."

"Then," I said, much amused, "you think that if you were mixed up in a crime, say a murder, you'd be able to spot the murderer right oV?"

"Of course I should. Mightn't be able to prove it to a pack of lawyers. But I'm certain I'd know. I'd feel it in my Wnger-tips if he came near me."

"It might be a 'she,' " I suggested.

"Might. But murder's a violent crime. Associate it more with a man."

"Not in a case of poisoning." Mrs. Cavendish's clear voice startled me. "Dr. Bauerstein was saying yesterday that, owing to the general ignorance of the more uncommon poisons among the medical profession, there were probably countless cases of poisoning quite unsuspected."

"Why, Mary, what a gruesome conversation!" cried Mrs. Inglethorp. "It makes me feel as if a goose were walking over my grave. Oh, there's Cynthia!"

A young girl in V.A.D. uniform ran lightly across the lawn.

"Why, Cynthia, you are late to-day. This is Mr. Hastings?Miss Murdoch."

Cynthia Murdoch was a fresh-looking young creature, full of life and vigour. She tossed oV her little V.A.D. cap, and I admired the great loose waves of her auburn hair, and the smallness and whiteness of the hand she held out to claim her tea. With dark eyes and eyelashes she would have been a beauty.

She Xung herself down on the ground beside John, and as I handed her a plate of sandwiches she smiled up at me.
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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter I

I Go to Styles

The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as "The Styles Case" has now somewhat subsided. Nevertheless, in view of the world-wide notoriety which attended it, I have been asked, both by my friend Poirot and the family themselves, to write an account of the whole story. This, we trust, will eVectually silence the sensational rumours which still persist.

I will therefore brieXy set down the circumstances which led to my being connected with the aVair.

I had been invalided home from the Front; and, after spending some months in a rather depressing Convalescent Home, was given a month's sick leave. Having no near relations or friends, 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 Wfteen years my senior, for one thing, though he hardly looked his forty-Wve years. As a boy, though, I had often stayed at Styles, his mother's place in Essex.

We had a good yarn about old times, and it ended in his inviting me down to Styles to spend my leave there.

"The mater will be delighted to see you again - after all those years," he added.

"Your mother keeps well?" I asked.

"Oh, yes. I suppose you know that she has married again?"

I am afraid I showed my surprise rather plainly. Mrs. Cavendish, who had married John's father when he was a widower with two sons, had been a handsome woman of middle-age as I remembered her. She certainly could not be a day less than seventy now. I recalled her as an energetic, autocratic personality, somewhatinclined to charitable and social notoriety, with a fondness for opening bazaars and playing the Lady Bountiful. She was a most generous woman, and possessed a considerable fortune of her own.

Their country-place, Styles Court, had been purchased by Mr. Cavendish early in their married life. He had been completely under his wife's ascendancy, so much so that, on dying, he left the place to her for her lifetime, as well as the larger part of his income; an arrangement that was distinctly unfair to his two sons. Their stepmother, however, had always been most generous to them; indeed, they were so young at the time of their father's remarriage that they always thought of her as their own mother.

Lawrence, the younger, had been a delicate youth. He had qualified as a doctor but early relinquished the profession of medicine, and lived at home while pursuing literary ambitions; though his verses never had any marked success.

John practised for some time as a barrister, but had Wnally settled down to the more congenial life of a country squire. He had married two years ago, and had taken his wife to live at Styles, though I entertained a shrewd suspicion that he would have preferred his mother to increase his allowance, which would have enabled him to have a home of his own. Mrs. Cavendish, however, was a lady who liked to make her own plans, and expected other people to fall in with them, and in this case she certainly had the whip hand, namely: the purse strings.

John noticed my surprise at the news of his mother's remarriage and smiled rather ruefully.

"Rotten little bounder too!" he said savagely. "I can tell you, Hastings, it's making life jolly difficult for us. As for Evie? you remember Evie?"

"No."

"Oh, I suppose she was after your time. She's the mater's factotum, companion, Jack of all trades! A great sport old Evie! Not precisely young and beautiful, but as game as they make them."

"You were going to say???"

"Oh, this fellow! He turned up from nowhere, on the pretext of being a second cousin or something of Evie's, though she didn't seem particularly keen to acknowledge the relationship. The fellow is an absolute outsider, anyone can see that. He's got a great black beard, and wears patent leather boots in all weathers! But the mater cottoned to him at once, took him on as secretary, you know how she's always running a hundred societies?"

I nodded.

"Well, of course the war has turned the hundreds into thousands. No doubt the fellow was very useful to her. But you could have knocked us all down with a feather when, three months ago, she suddenly announced that she and Alfred were engaged! The fellow must be at least twenty years younger than she is! It's simply bare-faced fortune hunting; but there you are, she is her own mistress, and she's married him."

"It must be a difficult situation for you all."

"Difficult! It's damnable!"

Thus it came about that, three days later, I descended from the train at Styles St. Mary, an absurd little station, with no apparent reason for existence, perched up in the midst of green Welds and country lanes. John Cavendish was waiting on the platform, and piloted me out to the car.

"Got a drop or two of petrol still, you see," he remarked. "Mainly owing to the mater's activities."

The village of Styles St. Mary was situated about two miles from the little station, and Styles Court lay a mile the other side of it. It was a still, warm day in early July. As one looked out over the Xat Essex country, lying so green and peaceful under the afternoon sun, it seemed almost impossible to believe that, not so very far away, a great war was running its appointed course. I felt I had suddenly strayed into another world. As we turned in at the lodge gates, John said:

"I'm afraid you'll Wnd it very quiet down here, Hastings."

"My dear fellow, that's just what I want."

"Oh, it's pleasant enough if you want to lead the idle life. I drill with the volunteers twice a week, and lend a hand at the farms. My wife works regularly 'on the land.' She is up at Wve every morning to milk, and keeps at it steadily until lunch-time. It's a jolly good life taking it all round, if it weren't for that fellow Alfred Inglethorp!" He checked the car suddenly, and glanced at his watch. "I wonder if we've time to pick up Cynthia. No, she'll have started from the hospital by now."

"Cynthia! That's not your wife?"

"No, Cynthia is a protégée of my mother's, the daughter of an old schoolfellow of hers, who married a rascally solicitor. He came a cropper, and the girl was left an orphan and penniless. My mother came to the rescue, and Cynthia has been with us nearly two years now. She works in the Red Cross Hospital at Tadminster, seven miles away."

As he spoke the last words, we drew up in front of the Wne old house. A lady in a stout tweed skirt, who was bending over a Xower bed, straightened herself at our approach.

"Hullo, Evie, here's our wounded hero! Mr. Hastings, Miss Howard."

Miss Howard shook hands with a hearty, almost painful, grip. I had an impression of very blue eyes in a sunburnt face. She was a pleasant-looking woman of about forty, with a deep voice, almost manly in its stentorian tones, and had a large sensible square body, with feet to match, these last encased in good thick boots. Her conversation, I soon found, was couched in the telegraphic style.

"Weeds grow like house afire. Can't keep even with 'em. Shall press you in. Better be careful."

"I'm sure I shall be only too delighted to make myself useful," I responded.

"Don't say it. Never does. Wish you hadn't later."

"You're a cynic, Evie," said John, laughing. "Where's tea to-day? inside or out?"

"Out. Too Wne a day to be cooped up in the house."

"Come on then, you've done enough gardening for to-day. '"The labourer is worthy of his hire,' you know. Come and be refreshed."

"Well," said Miss Howard, drawing oV her gardening gloves, "I'm inclined to agree with you."

She led the way round the house to where tea was spread under the shade of a large sycamore.

A Wgure rose from one of the basket chairs, and came a few steps to meet us.

"My wife, Hastings," said John.

I shall never forget my Wrst sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall, slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense of slumbering Wre that seemed to Wnd expression only in those wonderful tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, diVerent from any other woman'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 civilised body, all these things are burnt into my memory. I shall never forget them.

She greeted me with a few words of pleasant welcome in a low clear voice, and I sank into a basket chair feeling distinctly glad that I had accepted John's invitation. Mrs. Cavendish gave me some tea, and her few quiet remarks heightened my Wrst impression of her as a thoroughly fascinating woman. An appreciative listener is always stimulating, and I described, in a humorous manner, certain incidents of my Convalescent Home, in a way which, I Xatter myself, greatly amused my hostess. John, of course, good fellow though he is, could hardly be called a brilliant conversationalist.

At that moment a well remembered voice Xoated through the open French window near at hand:

"Then you'll write to the Princess after tea, Alfred? I'll write to Lady Tadminster for the second day, myself. Or shall we wait until we hear from the Princess? In case of a refusal, Lady Tadminster might open it the Wrst day, and Mrs. Crosbie the second. Then there's the Duchess, about the school fête."

There was the murmur of a man's voice, and then Mrs. Inglethorp's rose in reply:

"Yes, certainly. After tea will do quite well. You are so thoughtful, Alfred dear."

The French window swung open a little wider, and a handsome white-haired old lady, with a somewhat masterful cast of features, stepped out of it on to the lawn. A man followed her, a suggestion of deference in his manner.

Mrs. Inglethorp greeted me with eVusion.

"Why, if it isn't too delightful to see you again, Mr. Hastings, after all these years. Alfred, darling, Mr. Hastings, my husband."

I looked with some curiosity at "Alfred darling." He certainly struck a rather alien note. I did not wonder at John objecting to his beard. It was one of the longest and blackest I have ever seen. He wore gold rimmed pince-nez, and had a curious impassivity of feature. It struck me that he might look natural on a stage, but was strangely out of place in real life. His voice was rather deep and unctuous. He placed a wooden hand in mine and said:

"This is a pleasure, Mr. Hastings." Then, turning to his wife: "Emily dearest, I think that cushion is a little damp."

She beamed fondly on him, as he substituted another with every demonstration of the tenderest care. Strange infatuation of an otherwise sensible woman!

With the presence of Mr. Inglethorp, a sense of constraint and veiled hostility seemed to settle down upon the company. Miss Howard, in particular, took no pains to conceal her feelings. Mrs. Inglethorp, however, seemed to notice nothing unusual. Her volubility, which I remembered of old, had lost nothing in the intervening years, and she poured out a steady Xood of conversation, mainly on the subject of the forthcoming bazaar which she was organizing and which was to take place shortly. Occasionally she referred to her husband over a question of days or dates. His watchful and attentive manner never varied. From the very Wrst I took a Wrm and rooted dislike to him, and I Xatter myself that my Wrst judgments are usually fairly shrewd.

Presently Mrs. Inglethorp turned to give some instructions about letters to Evelyn Howard, and her husband addressed me in his painstaking voice:

"Is soldiering your regular profession, Mr. Hastings?"

"No, before the war I was in Lloyd's."

"And you will return there after it is over?"

"Perhaps. Either that or a fresh start altogether."

Mary Cavendish leant forward.

"What would you really choose as a profession, if you could just consult your inclination?"

"Well, that depends."

"No secret hobby?" she asked. "Tell me, you're drawn to something? Every one is, usually something absurd."

"You'll laugh at me."

She smiled.

"Perhaps."

"Well, I've always had a secret hankering to be a detective!"

"The real thing, Scotland Yard? Or Sherlock Holmes?"

"Oh, Sherlock Holmes by all means. But really, seriously, I am awfully drawn to it. I came across a man in Belgium once, a very famous detective, and he quite inXamed me. He was a marvellous little fellow. He used to say that all good detective work was a mere matter of method. My system is based on his, though of course I have progressed rather further. He was a funny little man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever."

"Like a good detective story myself," remarked Miss Howard. "Lots of nonsense written, though. Criminal discovered in last chapter. Every one dumfounded. Real crime, you'd know at once."

"There have been a great number of undiscovered crimes," I argued.

"Don't mean the police, but the people that are right in it. The family. You couldn't really hoodwink them. They'd know."

"Then," I said, much amused, "you think that if you were mixed up in a crime, say a murder, you'd be able to spot the murderer right oV?"

"Of course I should. Mightn't be able to prove it to a pack of lawyers. But I'm certain I'd know. I'd feel it in my Wnger-tips if he came near me."

"It might be a 'she,' " I suggested.

"Might. But murder's a violent crime. Associate it more with a man."

"Not in a case of poisoning." Mrs. Cavendish's clear voice startled me. "Dr. Bauerstein was saying yesterday that, owing to the general ignorance of the more uncommon poisons among the medical profession, there were probably countless cases of poisoning quite unsuspected."

"Why, Mary, what a gruesome conversation!" cried Mrs. Inglethorp. "It makes me feel as if a goose were walking over my grave. Oh, there's Cynthia!"

A young girl in V.A.D. uniform ran lightly across the lawn.

"Why, Cynthia, you are late to-day. This is Mr. Hastings, Miss Murdoch."

Cynthia Murdoch was a fresh-looking young creature, full of life and vigour. She tossed oV her little V.A.D. cap, and I admired the great loose waves of her auburn hair, and the smallness and whiteness of the hand she held out to claim her tea. With dark eyes and eyelashes she would have been a beauty.

She Xung herself down on the ground beside John, and as I handed her a plate of sandwiches she smiled up at me.

Copyright© 2003 by Agatha Christie
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Reading Group Guide

Who poisoned the wealthy Emily Inglethorpe, and how did the murderer penetrate and escape from her locked bedroom? Sus-pects abound in the quaint village of Styles St. Mary—from the heiress's fawning new husband to her two stepsons, her volatile housekeeper, and a pretty nurse who works in a hospital dispensary. Making his unforgettable debut, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is on the case.
"The key to the success of this style of detective novel," writes Elizabeth George in her Introduction, "lies in how the author deals with both the clues and the red herrings, and it has to be said that no one bettered Agatha Christie at this game."

1. According to Agatha Christie, when she wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles she saw it as "a story with a moral; in fact it was the old Everyman Morality Tale, the hunting down of Evil and the triumph of Good. At that time, the time of the 1914 war . . . we had not then begun to wallow in psychology." How is this re-ected in the characters who populate the novel? Did you find them realistic, or did you think they were stereotypical? Did you identify with any of them, and if so, who?

2. When Hastings describes his reaction to the bucolic village of Styles St. Mary he observes, "It seemed almost impossible to believe that, not so very far away, a great war was running its appointed course. I felt I had suddenly strayed into another world." What other references to World War I can you recall from the novel?

3. How would you describe the Edwardian social hierarchy that Christie establishes in the novel? Who is on the top of the ladder, and who is on the bottom? Does anyone break the rules of this well-defined socialorder?

4. What role do outsiders play in The Mysterious Affair at Styles? Consider, in particular, the characters of Alfred Inglethorp, Dr. Bauerstein, and Hercule Poirot.

5. According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, a red herring is "a hint or statement in the early part of the story to put the reader on the wrong scent" (derived from the practice of dragging a smelly red herring across a path to confuse hunting dogs). How many red herrings can you find in this mystery?

6. Captain Hastings admits to Mary Cavendish that he has always harbored a secret desire to become a detective in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes. Compare Poirot and Hastings to Holmes and Watson. What do these two detective teams have in common? How do they differ?

7. According to the critic Anthony Lejeune, "The real secret of Agatha Christie . . . lies not in the carpentering of her plots, excellent though that is, but in . . . [her] ability to buttonhole a reader, to make, as Raymond Chandler put it, 'each page throw the hook for the next.' " How does Christie build suspense in this novel? Were you surprised when the true murderer was revealed?

8. Hercule Poirot, the five-foot-four, egg-headed, brilliant Belgian detective who made his first appearance in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, is the hero of more than thirty novels and fifty short stories by Agatha Christie. What makes him such an appealing and enduring character?

9. How do Agatha Christie's novels compare with the works of today's mystery writers, such as Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, and Anne Perry?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 209 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(82)

4 Star

(76)

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(30)

2 Star

(13)

1 Star

(8)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 210 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Entertaining and full of surprises

    I'm embarrassed to admit that, prior to reading this book, I had never read anything by Agatha Christie. Last week, PBS featured one of her books on their Masterpiece Mystery show, and I thought it was very well done. My interest was piqued as to whether the books were as good as the show. I decided to start with her very first book published, rather than start with a later book and run the risk of encountering spoilers. So, I requested The Mysterious Affair at Styles from my library, and hoped for the best.

    I was not disappointed! One big plus to The Mysterious Affair at Styles is that the culprit is not obvious. At the end of the book, I was just as surprised as the characters to learn who the murderer was, and what had happened. It was refreshing not to have it be predictable. I also like that the reader is given lots of clues along the way, to try and piece things together. The book moves quick enough that you don't get bored, yet provides plenty of details and complex characters. I definitely plan on reading more by Christie, if this book is any indication to what the rest of her mysteries are like.

    20 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2011

    the mysterious affair at styles

    I enjoyed reading this book it was very intriging. If you enjoy mysteries you will like this book

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A brilliant first novel

    This was Christies first published novel and the introduction of Poirot to the world. While it suffers from the fact that Poirot is not the calm and methodical detective he would later become it soars in the plotting and intricacy of the mystery. What would seem to be a straightforward murder mystery becomes a tangled web of clues - a Christie trait that she establishes from the very beginning. And, just as she would later make her trademark, all the clues are there in front of the reader... it just takes the mind of Poirot to put them together. It's hard to say much more without giving spoilers away so I will stop now... I will just say that this is a "Must read."

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2008

    Don't Be Decieved

    Very good book! Agatha's first Hercule Poirot novel. Wasn't sure what to expect since the book was written in 1920, but found it as enjoyable as all the other Poirot novels! My only clue to the solution? : If you listen to people you will be in for a gigantic surprise at the end of the book! Very good Highly reccomended!

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2004

    what a book!!!

    This was such an exciting book. i read it in one day. i couldn't put it down. it always kept me guessing and i didn't even think the killer was gonna be who it was. the only thing that bugged me was the fact that poirot kept not telling hastings his ideas. i wanted to know too, so it bothered me. other than that, the book was fantastic.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2012

    I love anything Agatha Christie.

    I really enjoyed reading the background of Hercule Poirot..I would have loved this book more if it was a little longer..but that said, I loved it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    Indulging

    I simply love Poirot. He is clever, highly intellegent and the most polite detective ever. Agatha Christie is a natural story teller and mistery writer. You will enjoy trying to figure out who the killer is before Poirot reveals it to you. Enjoy

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    A Must for Christie/Mystery Fans

    This is where it started. Originally published in 1920, this is Christie's first novel and featured the debut of Hercule Poirot and friend Hastings. A harbinger of things to come, this is an intiguing blend of characters and plot that keep you guessing and reading. Any fan of the genre and author will love it. Sure this will lead the reader to Christie's other novels, many of which I have now read. Highly recommended reading.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    In her usual flair Agatha Christie does it again, this one is one of Poirot's finest mysteries. An absolute worthy read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is how the great mystery writer started

    The first time I read The Mysterious Affair At Styles... Well, I can't even remember the first time I read it so recently decided to re-read the book that was the beginning of Agatha Christie's wonderful career. It has a great reputation and it was probably completely amazing for its time (otherwise it wouldn't have been as successful as it was) but to me it was little more than Agatha Christie starting out, testing her pen, coming into her own. The writing isn't as precise and engaging and Poirot is more exuberance than method but this mystery already has the elements I've come to expect from her work: the detective's presence is more serendipity than anything else, there's a rather large cast of characters and if you dig deep enough every one of them has a motive but none of them actually had the opportunity to commit the crime (not at first glance anyway), and the culprit is not at all the person you've suspected.
    As different as Poirot may have been in this book from his later appearances he was ultimately my favorite part of this story. Because of his lack of reserve in his interactions with the English, his status of a refugee, even how stumped he was as for the identity of the murderer made him much more endearing than when he gradually transformed into an infallible force of intellect who always keeps his cards to his chest in the later books. I also liked his role in the human element of this story when he attended to the personal lives of some of the characters as a side project during his investigation. What can I say, the man cared and I like seeing that in fiction!
    All in all this is a good debut novel and although because of the writing I can't give it more than 3 stars I believe that if one decides to read all of Christie's novels the way I have one might as well start at the beginning and watch the master perfect her craft.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2011

    Agatha Christie fan

    I have always been a fan of Agatha Christie. I like mysteries and hers are not really deep, but do make you think a bit. Poirot is not my favorite character of hers. He's too fussy, but I do enjoy Miss Marple. So prim and proper.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2011

    Great Book!

    This was my first Agatha Christie book I read and I loved it!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Introdcution to Hercule Poirot

    When I had decided to read every Agatha Christie mystery I was just going to go about it willy-nilly, read them as I got them with no regard for publishing order. However, when I posted I was doing this on the Mystery board at the Barnes & Noble book club site it was suggested I go about it a little differently. Becke and Dulcinea both convinced me the only way to do this right was to read them in order because several of the reoccurring characters age throughout the books. I wisely bowed to their wisdom and changed up my game plane a bit.


    Now I had a slow start to my self challenge but I finally finished the first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Now this was a book I had read several times but this time I tried to read the book as if it was my first time through. This was a lot harder than I originally thought it would be. I believe I managed to do a OK job at it though and here are a few of my thoughts.


    This is not only the first mystery novel Agatha Christie published, it is also the first appearance of the famous Hercule Poirot. Monsieur Poirot and his "little gray cells" went on to star in over 30 novels and over 50 short stories. Leaving out everything else I have read with him in it I came away still liking this strange overly pompous, egotistical man. The man is cunning and so sure of himself he is willing to take risks with other peoples lives in order to produce the outcome he desires.


    I have always found myself fascinated by a man who is described in this book as "hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible. I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound." This description was given by Arthur Hastings who is narrating the book. Colonel Hastings would appear regularly throughout Hercule Poirot's career as a Watson like character. Poirot's reasoning and skills of observation are wonderful to watch play out as he solves the case.


    This is also the first appearance of Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard. Not much is revealed about him in this book other than he had previously worked with Poirot and has full trust in him.


    I loved the book and recommend if to anyone who has never read a Agatha Christie book. This is a good taste of what she has to offer as a story teller. In this book as in her others, the clues are always there for you to spot and there are never any surprises. One of the characters from this book, Evelyn Howard, describes the way bad writing in mystery novels so often goes "Lots of nonsense written....criminal discovered in last chapter. Every one dumbfounded." This is not the case for Agatha Christie books, the killer is always there to spot if you are as clever as Hercule Poirot.


    This is the plot synopsis from the publisher of the edition I read (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers)


    Set in Essex in the English countryside. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is one of the great classic murder mysteries. The victim, Mrs. Emily Inglethorp, is the wealthy mistress of Styles Court. After an evening of entertaining family and guest, she is found poisoned in her locked bedroom. The long list of suspects includes her gold-digging new husband, her stepsons, her best female friend, and a visiting doctor. As

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2003

    An excellent book!!!

    This first poirot book finds poirot looking for the killer of an wealthy lady.The lady dies in her locked bedroom and in her last breath she says her husband's name.Was it her money loving spouse,her two sons,her doctor or her companion. And this book shows that the person who is the most helpful somtimes has the most to hide!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2002

    Muder Strikes Poirot Again

    This Novel is one of many. The way she has written her characters in this book is just amazing!!! The Mystery is one that you cant take your eyes away from the page!!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2002

    POIROT IS BORN!!!

    This book shows the birth of Hercule Poirot as he advances in what he would do for the rest of his life, Private Investigating. This keeps you guessing more and more depending on how many times you have read the book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2012

    Good story

    A little long, no one will figure out the ending. It's very complex.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2012

    Great mystery

    Agatha is always a great read even in this day and age.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    LOVE LOVE LOVE Hercule Poirot!

    Hercule Poirot ahhhhhh....!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2010

    Poirot is one of the best detectives in literature.

    The first of Agatha Christie's books and the first of the Hercule Poirot mysteries it is a beautifully written book that proves why she is the best selling author in history only next to the bible and Shakespeare. If you have read any of her books you know that they all have very similar story lines. A bunch of people come together there is a murder and then someone tries to solve it who knows much more about what's going on then anyone else in the story or the reader except of course the murderer. The characters are all incredibly well written and have a realness rarely seen in murder mysteries. The main character here is Hastings who is incredibly likable, We want him to prevail and to solve the murder before any one else does, including Poirot. When we meet Poirot we find him to be an old man past his prime who must be listened to but not necessarily believed. But as the story goes on we of course find that we should have believed him at every turn and that he was only trying to lead us in the right direction without tipping off the killer. Always a fun quick read I would recommend any of Dame Christie's books without any hesitation.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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