“The Mysterious Affair at Styles”, written in 1916 and published in 1921, is the first work by Agatha Christie. Yes, the literary journey of one of the most accomplished writers of crime thrillers and murder mysteries started from here. The book introduces us to the duo of meticulous and brainy detective Hercule Poirot and his constant companion Lieutenant Hastings. The pair later made appearance in many other books by Agatha Christie. Though it is the first work, it is one of her best and has all her usual elements: murder in an old house, many suspects, each of which has got something to hide, side tracks and clues that act as red herrings and at last simple and ingenious solution of the mystery.
As the name indicates, the story is set in the “Styles Court”, a country manor in Essex where Hastings is invited by his friend Mr. John Cavendish. Mrs. Emily Cavendish, owner of the house has recently re-married to a man much younger than herself and has become Mrs. Alfred Inglethorp. This has put her sons John and Lawrence in an awkward position about the family property. John’s wife Mary is a woman of very strong character and is friendly with Dr. Bauerstein. We also meet Evelyn Howard, Mrs. Inglethorp’s companion and a young, beautiful orphan girl of a friend of Mrs. Inglethorp called Cynthia.
In the late night or early morning, the household wakes up to find Emily Inglethrop subjected to violent seizures resulting in her death and Hastings calls Poirot to solve the mystery. The cause of death is supposedly strychnine poisoning. As Poirot starts interviewing the household, he finds out that the previous evening Mrs. Inglethorp had had an argument with someone, most probably her husband or her son, which induced her to change her will. This will, however, has gone missing.
The primary suspect is her new husband who has inherited her property. He is as such despised by the family and considered a gold-digger. He also does not have an alibi and supposedly purchased strychnine the same evening. But, Poirot stops the police from arresting him. In addition to him, Cynthia, who is a nurse, also could have procured strychnine very easily. Finally, police arrests John Cavendish for the murder of his mother as he also inherits the property that belonged to his father on death of his mother. John also is supposedly engaged in an affair with a peasant woman and there is evidence that he could have purchased poison.
But did John commit the murder? Along with the murder mystery, there are some love stories also present in the novel. But, these can reach to their end only when the true murderer is identified and rest can have their hearts free of suspicion and guilt. As clever as the murderer is, Hercule Poirot is here to see through the maze with the aid of his little grey cells and to give us a “happily-ever-after” ending. Enjoy……