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by Agatha Christie
Random House, February 2007
224 pages
ISBN: 0812977203

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

An Agatha Christie mystery is like Santa Claus: We used to believe in both, but then grew up, became wise, and learned the truth. However, Santa still comes around each year, and there'll always be an Agatha book on the shelf so we can temporarily at least go back to 'the good old days.'

THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES is the very first of the Hercule Poirot stories and was written in 1920, although the time is during World War I. It has a typical affluent manor house setting. Interestingly the last Poirot mystery, CURTAIN, also took place at Styles and was written during World War II, but was published posthumously.

I've read so many Christie novels that I sometimes forget which. I know I've read CURTAIN, but don't think I read STYLES before now. Both are typically clever Christies with interesting characters, not all as two-dimensioned as is frequently charged. In STYLES, for example, the character of Mary Cavendish stands out particularly as well drawn. On the other hand, we also find such generalized descriptions as a man having "the typical lawyer's mouth."

Captain Hastings, the little Belgian detective's sidekick, is in both. It's interesting how in STYLES Christie sarcastically, but typically, draws the poor captain as a counterpoint to the quick-witted Poirot.

The mystery has to do with the murder of the woman who owns Styles. The manor is full of guests and a pot pourri of motives, not to mention love affairs. In fact, The Mysterious Affairs at Styles might have been a more appropriate title. Even Captain Hasting gets into the act when a woman he hardly knows starts crying to him that she cannot support herself. Hastings tells us: "I don't know what possessed me." Then he blurts out gallantly, but awkwardly: "Marry me." "She laughs and says with acerbity, 'Don't be silly.'" Hastings concludes: "I was a little annoyed."

We learn new things about poison and old things about clues, both real and red-herringish, some of which wouldn't play today to an audience that has become a bit more sophisticated after reading 40 million or so plots. But that's like criticizing Socrates for not using theiInternet. Taking it all together, it's a good mystery well worth reading.

This is also the first of Random House's new reprinting series of Agatha Christie in its new Mortalis series, with a dossier on the author and other interesting information at the end. It looks like a handsome paperback with a cover in good taste, complimenting the story itself.

Reviewed by Eugene Aubrey Stratton, February 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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