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by Agatha Christie
HarperCollins, July 2004
Audiobook pages
ISBN: 0007191057

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Captain Arthur Hastings is at a loose end after receiving a medical discharge from the British Army during World War I. When old friend John Cavendish invites him to continue his recovery at Styles Court near the town of Styles St Mary, Hastings eagerly accepts the offer.

Trained as a barrister, John Cavendish now lives the life of a country squire in the lush Essex countryside of England. John is hard up for money, but along with his wife, Mary, he enjoys both the goodwill and the home of his stepmother, Emily Cavendish Inglethorp.

John's brother Lawrence also resides at Styles Court. Trained as a doctor, Lawrence has turned to writing as a profession. Like John, Lawrence is penniless and dependent on his stepmother for support. Recently married to Albert Inglethorp, a man disliked by both John and Lawrence, Emily bestows her wealth on family and friends alike. Evelyn Howard is Emily's oldest and closest friend, a woman content to do whatever Emily bids while living in Mrs Inglethorp's home. Cynthia Murdoch is the daughter of another of Emily's old friends. Orphaned two years previously, Cynthia lives at Styles Court and works in the pharmacy at the nearby Red Cross Hospital.

Almost immediately, Hastings is drawn into the intrigue surrounding Styles Court. An argument between Emily and Evelyn leads to the latter's move to Middlingham, a town 15 miles from Styles St Mary, where Miss Howard takes a job as a nurse in the local hospital. Before leaving, Evelyn asks Hastings to keep an eye on Albert Inglethorp, whom she suspects is having an affair with Mrs Raikes, the wife of a farmer in the district. Hastings later learns of an argument between Mary Cavendish and Emily Inglethorp. Mary Cavendish appears enamored with Dr Bauerstein, a London specialist and expert on poisons currently vacationing in the area. Hasting wonders if the argument is because of Bauerstein.

A visit with Lawrence to Cynthia's pharmacy distracts Hastings from the problems at Styles Court, as does his reunion with Hercule Poirot, a retired Belgian police detective currently living with seven other Belgian refugees in a cottage near Styles Court owned by Emily Inglethorp. A fan of Emily's, Poirot is distressed when Hastings calls him a day later to tell him of Mrs Inglethorp's sudden death. Hastings suspects Emily was murdered, a victim of strychnine poisoning. Dr Bauerstein believes the same thing, as does a coroner's court convened a few days later to review the case. Called in by Hastings and John Cavendish, Poirot proceeds to investigate the untimely death.

A crushed coffee cup, a burned will, white powder found on a tray, and a partially emptied pot of cocoa seem to point to one member of the family as the murderer. When a local pharmacist tells of a recent purchase of strychnine from his store, the noose appears to tighten around that person's neck. Hastings is disappointed when Poirot fails to stop the police from making an arrest. His disappointment turns to admiration, though, when Poirot turns the evidence to his advantage and exposes the real killer during a meeting with all the principals at Styles Court.

THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES was Christie's first novel, published in 1920, and the first appearance of her intrepid Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Christie turned her own knowledge of poisons to good use in this classic tale narrated in print by Capt Arthur Hastings and in audio form by the talented Hugh Fraser. Christie fans will enjoy this well-done version of the book, as will those for whom this telling is an introduction to the work of the fabled queen of the British cozy. Highly recommended for those who prefer a traditional mystery replete with a puzzling plot and a full plate of red herrings.

Reviewed by Mary V. Welk, December 2004

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