“Instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.”
The first novel in the Hercule Poirot series, The Mysterious Affair at Styles marks the beginning of the adventures of the famous detective. In my reading of Agatha Christie novels over the years I remember picking up this first Poirot and eventually setting it aside, unfinished. I simply could not get into the story. So, when I decided to tackle the full Poirot reading list, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was one I was not particularly excited to get to. However, upon reading it, I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that I liked it well enough. It is certainly not a favourite and I will likely not recall much of it down the line, but it was enjoyable enough to read in the moment. So, what is The Mysterious Affair at Styles?
The mysterious affair is the very mysterious death of Emily Inglethorp, a wealthy lady murdered in her locked bedroom. How did the killer enter and leave without any notice? There is no shortage of possible suspects but the circumstances are mysterious indeed. Enter Hercule Poirot, in his debut as the brilliant and oh so memorable detective.
The mystery drew me in and I was genuinely curious to see not only who committed the crime, but also how it played out. Initially, I did find it tough to keep track of the characters and who was who. There are a lot of descriptions and the way things are presented was somewhat tedious to follow. The most surprising aspect of the novel was the character of Hastings, Poirot’s sidekick, if you will. I cannot express how irritating this character is. An aspiring detective who is so beyond dense and clueless it is quite baffling. The fact that he has a desire to be a detective and believes himself to be an observant person becomes laughable at a certain point. Having read many Poirot books over the years, I don’t remember ever having an issue with this character. I am interested to follow the evolution of Hastings as I make my way through all the books in the series. While The Mysterious Affair at Styles is not a particularly memorable story, I do feel it is a solid first novel in what became an intriguing set of mysteries and brought to life the unique character of detective Poirot.
“Life can be very terrible,” he said. “One needs much courage… Also to live,” said Poirot, “one needs courage.”
Within the confines of a commercial passenger plane, a woman is found dead just prior to landing. It is clear that the death did not occur naturally, and a poisoned dart is quickly discovered pointing to a murder by unusual means. How did someone manage to shoot a poisoned dart without anyone noticing? Seated in seat No. 9 is none other than Hercule Poirot who made many observations during the flight, noticing the passengers and their movements, but completely unaware of the dead body of the woman seated behind him. There is a plane full of suspects, a bizarre method of murder, and an unlikelihood of any of the passengers being able to execute it. But there must be an explanation, and there is no one more equipped to find it than the great Hercule Poirot.
“There’s nothing for anyone to be afraid of if they’re only telling the truth,” said the Scotland Yard man austerely. Poirot looked at him pityingly. “In verity, I believe that you yourself honestly believe that.”
Death in the Clouds is another solid mystery in the Hercule Poirot series, and one I particularly enjoyed. Having a murder mystery focus on the events that occurred on a passenger plane during flight was intriguing and the course of events was well explained. This included the cast of characters/suspects along with their actions leading up to the discovery of the body. The story held my attention and piqued my curiosity, never feeling confusing or convoluted in its execution. There is a fatherly side to Poirot in this novel, and as it turns out he has a romantic soul, which is a nice element of his character. He also comes across as wise and astute in his evaluation of criminal justice. An enjoyable novel with a compelling mystery that provides greater depth to the famous detective.
“Events come to people, not people to events. Why do some people have exciting lives and other people dull ones? Because of their surroundings? Not at all. One man may travel to the ends of the earth and nothing will happen to him. There will be a massacre a week before he arrives, and an earthquake the day after he leaves, and the boat that he nearly took will be shipwrecked. And another man may live at Balham and travel to the City every day, and things will happen to him. He will be mixed up with blackmailing gangs and beautiful girls and motor bandits. There are people with a tendency to shipwrecks–even if they go on a boat on an ornamental lake, something will happen to it.”
A dinner party of famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright, which hosts thirteen guests, turns out to be particularly unlucky for Reverand Babbington. His death comes on suddenly after a drink from his martini glass, however any initial suspicions are disapproved after an analysis reveals no trace of poison in the glass. After all, who would ever want to harm the well liked Reverand? The event doesn’t sit well with a couple of key individuals, and another death under similar circumstances leads to an investigation that catches the interest of Poirot himself.
“But yes, exactly that. Think! With thought, all problems can be solved.”
Oof, this one was a challenge to get through. The story moves quite slowly and feels disjointed. There are three characters that are the main focus and guide us through the events and act as investigators, with Poirot becoming a key fixture much later in the book. I liked one of these characters, was indifferent about another, and could not stand the third. There are Poirot books I have read where he is absent for portions of the story and it works, but here I really missed his presence. With every page I was hoping that he would hop on the scene and take over. I usually breeze through Agatha Christie books, but I kept putting this one down and if I had not been doing a read through all Poirot books, I would have not bothered to finish it. The last quarter of the story does pick up and Poirot works his magic. I especially liked the way the story concludes with such a classic Poirot thing to say. The actual conclusion to the mystery is not really satisfying and seems fairly ridiculous in terms of motive. While there are some bright spots, this one was a miss for me and my least favourite Poirot book so far.
“No, my friend, I am not drunk. I have just been to the dentist, and need not return for another six months! Is it not the most beautiful thought?”
Poirot may be the world’s greatest detective, but he fears the dentist as much as many people do. So it is with great hesitation and plenty of nerves that he enters the offices of celebrated Dr. Morley. Following the examination he is relieved, never once imagining that he would be back at the dentist’s only hours later examining the body of Dr. Morley, apparently dead by suicide.
Having been in contact with the gentleman earlier in the day, Poirot cannot believe that the facts are exactly as they appear. Why would a celebrated dentist decide to kill himself that day? What may have occurred following Poirot’s exit from the office? A thorough investigation follows, as Poirot interviews the other patients and step by step starts to reconstruct the events of the day. But unexpected twists and turns lead to more questions and an even bigger mystery.
This was an interesting mystery that had my attention with every question posed and every unexplained occurrence. I wanted to know the why and the how and who, every step of the way. The piecing of a puzzle is always intriguing to me, and this book takes it up a level as it not only seeks answers to the original questions but also introduces a new mystery into the mix that is just as odd. It does feel like everything gets more and more complicated and at a point I stopped trying to figure things out and just went along with it. There are aspects to the story that walk the line between complex and convoluted, but I did not mind that so much. Overall a solid, cozy mystery.
“What are you going to do?”
“I am going to visit these five people – and from each one I am going to get his or her own story.”
Superintendent Hale sighed with a deep melancholy.
He said: “Man, you’re nuts! None of their stories are going to agree! Don’t you grasp that elementary fact? No two people remember a thing in the same order anyway. And after all this time! Why, you’ll hear five accounts of five separate murders!
“That,” said Poirot, “is what I am counting upon. It will be very instructive.”
Anytime I have trouble focusing on reading, I grab an Agatha Christie mystery to get back in the swing of things. This time around I picked up Five Little Pigs, and it was the perfect book and the perfect time to read it. I quickly became immersed in the mystery and could not put it down until all the answers were revealed.
In Five Little Pigs, the daughter of a woman convicted of murder asks Hercule Poirot to find out the truth regarding her deceased mother’s case. It is sixteen years after the fact, and having been just a child when the crime occurred, she remembers little and wants the facts set straight as she embarks on her own future. Poirot decides to take on the case, carefully interviewing those involved, with the focus on five main suspects who bring to mind an old nursery rhyme:
Philip Blake (the stockbroker) who went to market; Meredith Blake (the amateur herbalist) who stayed at home; Elsa Greer (the three-time divorcee) who had roast beef; Cecilia Williams (the devoted governess) who had none; and Angela Warren (the sister) who cried ‘wee wee wee’ all the way home. Continue reading “The Hercule Poirot Reading List: Five Little Pigs”