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The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

The Murder on the Links by Agatha ChristieThe Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #2
Published by William Morrow on November 23, 2004
Genres: Classic Mystery/Suspense
Pages: 240
Source: Purchased: ebook
Buy on Amazon
five-stars

An urgent cry for help brings Poirot to France. But he arrives too late to save his client, whose brutally stabbed body now lies face downwards in a shallow grave on a golf course.

But why is the dead man wearing his son's overcoat? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse . . .

I realized this year that I have never read this book. I could have sworn I had since I did my Poirot readings a few years back, but then realized nope that I must have confused this book with another. Either way, I am thrilled that I got a chance to immerse myself back into the world of our egg-head shaped detective and his “little gray cells.”

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Told in the first person POV by Hastings (Poirot’s mostly bumbling and honestly dumb as anything assistant) in this one. We have Hasting and Poirot go off to investigate after Poirot receives a letter from a Monsieur Paul Renauld. Renauld believes he will be murdered and asks for Poirot to come as quickly as he can. However, when Poirot and Hastings arrive, they find the police on the scene since Renauld was found murdered and his wife bound by unknown attackers.

We have Poirot getting into a mental pissing match with another detective named Giraud who hates Poirot and seems him as old and outdated. I did want to shake Hastings a bit here and there since he wants Poirot’s deductions to be correct since he doesn’t want Poirot to look foolish which would mean he would look foolish. Speaking of Hastings, he falls in love at first sight with a young woman he calls Cinderella. I hope you like that name, because she is referred to as such throughout mostly the entire book. We even have a connection to the murder and we have Hastings acting a fool (IMHO) cause of love. I don’t know. I may be heartless, but if I think you committed a crime I am going to get the heck away from you.

This is not one of Poirot’s locked room mysteries, but it does leave a lot of intrigue into who killed Renauld and why. Also I have to say that once again I was totally in the dark about who the villain was in this one. I guessed wrong (twice) and just gave up on who dun it until Poirot revealed all.

The ending in it’s own way had a HEA which surprised me.

Image result for poirot gifs

five-stars

The Poirot Project: Cards on the Table, Dumb Witness, & Death on the Nile

The Poirot Project: Cards on the Table, Dumb Witness, Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot
Published by Harper Collins Genres: Classic Mystery/Suspense, Mystery

I read these over a year ago, and rather than do full blown reviews of each of them, I am just going to jot down my thoughts, impressions and memories. When I began the Christie Project, I considered reviewing each book as I read it, but decided against it because it is sometimes difficult to review books in a vacuum. Before I could review them, I felt like I needed, in my own mind, to have an understanding of where I would personally put the book in the overall series in terms of quality. Christie was prolific, and her work is definitely of varying quality even within her various series. Plus, it is difficult for me to come up with sufficient material for a review of a piece of detective fiction since being spoiler-free is critical.

Most of these posts have "reviewed" four of the Poirot mysteries. However, I am planning on doing a full treatment of Appointment with Death, Poirot #18, which would be the fourth book in the post.

Three Act Tragedy (Poirot #15)
Year of publication: 1936
Setting/Locations: London
Narration: third person
Investigator(s): Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver

This is a solid entry in the Poirot canon, and is the only book that brings together Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle and Ariadne Oliver. It is also the first book in which Ariadne Oliver – a rather bumbling mystery writer who functions as a self-insert by Christie – appears with Poirot. The murder itself is ingenious. The strange Mr. Shaitana invites the four sleuths and four individuals whom he suspects of previously getting away with murder (similar to And Then There Were None) to play a game of bridge, tosses out bait, and gets himself murdered. There are four suspects, and each of the sleuths is assigned to investigate one of the four and get to the bottom of the murder, psychologically speaking. I don’t play bridge, and enjoyed this one in spite of the fact that the rule of bridge actually do play a significant part in determining the solution.

Dumb Witness (Poirot #16)
Year of publication: 1937
Setting/Locations: English country house
Narration: third person by Arthur Hastings
Investigators: Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings

In my opinion, this is a rare clunker from Agatha’s best period. There are actually brief bits that are narrated from the perspective of Bob, the dog, who functions as the “dumb witness.” It’s just overwhelmingly stupid. The murder itself is classic Christie, with family members knocking off the family matriarch who doesn’t have the good manners to die soon enough for them to inherit all of the family money. Those Brits and their matricide!

Death on the Nile (Poirot #17)

Year of Publication: 1937
Settings/Locations: Egypt
Narration:
Investigators: Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race

This is one of my all time favorite Agatha Christie mysteries. It is brilliantly conceived, and daringly executed. There are actually three concurrent mysteries – who killed the gorgeous Linnet Ridgeway, who is the jewel thief, and what is the deal with the raging communist on board the ship. I want to give nothing away because the entire book is simply delightful. Christie’s writing is tight and her plotting is impeccable. The characterization of the fierce Jackie is fantastic. I also always enjoy the addition of Colonel Race to the plot!

The Poirot Project: Appointment With Death

The Poirot Project: Appointment With DeathAppointment with Death (Hercule Poirot, #19) by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #19
Published by HarperCollins on January 1st 1970
Pages: 303
Goodreads
five-stars

Among the towering red cliffs and the ancient ruins of Petra sits the corpse of Mrs. Boynton, the cruel and tyrannizing matriarch of the Boynton family. A tiny puncture mark on her wrist is the only sign of the fatal injection that killed her. With only twenty-four hours to solve the mystery, Hercule Poirot recalls a remark he overheard back in Jerusalem: "You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?" Mrs. Boynton was, indeed, the most detestable woman he had ever met.

Note from MR: This review is coming out of order in my Poirot Project recap! The bulk post for books 16, 17, & 18 will be published tomorrow.

This book is about what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. It is one of my absolute favorites of the Poirot novels for both the setting – the rose red city of Petra, Jordan – and the villainy of the ultimate victim.

Christie again draws on her experience travelling with her archeologist husband, Max Mallowan, as she did in Murder in Mesopotamia and Death on the Nile. In my opinion, this mystery is loads better than Murder in Mesopotamia, and is every bit as good as Death on the Nile.

The book begins with Poirot overhearing two people speaking in the hotel room next to his, through an open window. The voice of a man says “You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?” The first section of the book occurs at the hotel, where the reader is introduced to the Boynton family, including Mrs. Boynton, who is a simply unredeemable, petty domestic tyrant. She has exercised total psychological control over the four children who travel with her: Lennox Boynton, Raymond Boynton, Carol Boynton and Ginevra Boynton. She is manipulative and extremely cruel to her family, and she has them so cowed that they have simply collapsed under her tyranny.

The book is partially narrated by a young doctor named Sarah King, because once the Boynton family leaves Jerusalem for Petra, Poirot is not present until the end. The murder occurs with him off-stage. Sarah King is also an interesting character – one of Christie’s bright young women – and she is more than capable of seeing clearly that Mrs. Boynton is mostly pathetic, in spite of her ability to terrorize her family.

Mrs. Boynton is the sort of person who doesn’t understand that everyone has a breaking point, so by the time we get to Petra, it becomes clear that she is going to come to an unhappy end. This is essentially a closed circle mystery, with an ingenious solution. The first time I read it, I was a bit blindsided by the identity of the murderer. In subsequent readings, I’ve been astounded at how cleverly Christie drops clues into the book that, with exquisite subtlety, point the reader to whodunnit.

five-stars

The Poirot Project: Tragedy, In The Clouds, A.B.C., and Mesopotamia

The Poirot Project: Three Act Tragedy, Death in the Clouds, The A.B.C. Murders, Murder in Mesopatamia by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot
Published by Harper Collins Genres: Classic Mystery/Suspense
Source: Purchased: print book

I read these over a year ago, and rather than do full blown reviews of each of them, I am just going to jot down my thoughts, impressions and memories. When I began the Christie Project, I considered reviewing each book as I read it, but decided against it because it is sometimes difficult to review books in a vacuum. Before I could review them, I felt like I needed, in my own mind, to have an understanding of where I would personally put the book in the overall series in terms of quality. Christie was prolific, and her work is definitely of varying quality even within her various series. Plus, it is difficult for me to come up with sufficient material for a review of a piece of detective fiction since being spoiler-free is critical.

With these four Poirot mysteries, Christie has clearly hit her stride as an author. They are some of the strongest in the Hercule Poirot series, as well as in her overall bibliography.

Three Act Tragedy (Poirot #11)

Year of publication: 1935
Setting/Locations: England
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot, Mr. Satterthwaite

This is a really interesting Hercule Poirot puzzler! Hercule Poirot partners with a friend by the name of Mr. Satterthwaite who has previously appeared in The Mysterious Mr. Quin, a book of short stories that I have not yet read. The format of the book is designed to mimic a stage play with three acts, and one of the main characters is Mr. Cartwright, an actor. The initial murder occurs at a party. In this book, Christie uses a concept that she will use in at least other mystery (The A.B.C. Murders) – I read that one on the heels of this one and it gave me some clues as to, at least, how and why the murders were being committed. I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to give the story away, but this is a good one. In addition, this is one of the books where Christie makes reference to the killer avoiding justice through the criminal justice system through suicide.

Death in the Clouds (Poirot #12)

Year of publication: 1935
Setting/Locations: Airplane over the channel
Narration: third person
Investigator:Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp

Of the four books referenced in this post, I think that Death in the Clouds is the least interesting. It is a locked room mystery, taking place on a airplane flight between Paris and London. Christie brings into the mystery Jane Grey, one of her ubiquitous young women who end up captivating Poirot – similar to Katherine Gray in Mystery of the Blue Train, Amy Leatheran in Murder in Mesopotamia, and Appointment With Death’s Sarah King. This book also features Inspector Japp. The murderer has a complicated plan that is motivated by basic greed, and the murder weapon, a poisoned dart, is among the more novel features of this mystery.

The A.B.C. Murders (Poirot #13)

Year of publication: 1936
Setting/Locations: England
Narration: first & third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp, Hastings

The A.B.C. Murders is one of the best Poirot mysteries. I would probably put it in second place, just under Murder on the Orient Express. It serves as Christie’s take on the “serial killer” mystery, with an incredibly ingenious murderer who keeps the reader guessing. I would probably recommend reading this one before reading Three Act Tragedy, as having read that one really clued me in to what was actually going on with this one (I read them in order, so I had read Three Act Tragedy very close in time to this one). I think that this is the better and more interesting book of the two. Or, wait and separate your reading experiences and you’ll probably be fine. In addition, the narrative style of this book is very interesting, being presented both in the first person through Hastings, but also in a third person narration of the killer, reconstructed by the first person narrator. It is extremely unique among all of the Poirot mysteries.

Murder in Mesopotamia (Poirot #14)

Year of publication: 1936
Setting/Locations: Iraq
Narration: first person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot, Amy Leatheran

According to Christie’s website, you should read Murder on the Orient Express before reading this one. I loved Murder in Mesopotamia, set at an archeological dig in Iraq for its exotic setting. Amy Leatheran, a young nurse, provides an interesting change of narrators in this one. There are some difficulties with the plot, however, as the resolution of this particular mystery (like that of The Third Girl) crosses the line between merely unlikely into utterly implausible. In this, as in many other Christie novels, it is very clear that being in possession of clues into the identity of the killer is likely to end badly for the person involved once the killer figures it out! The moral of that story is: tell Poirot everything, immediately!

Merry Mayhem and Murder for Christmas!

Mini-reviews: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, Anne Perry's Merry Mysteries, The Santa Klaus Murder by Anne Perry, Mavis Doriel Hay, Otto Penzler
Genres: Mystery
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads


Every year I track down at least a few Christmas or holiday themed books to read, and this year, my obsession with crime fiction took to the forefront! Now that we are less than a week from Christmas, I thought that I would share a few of the holiday mysteries I read this year! They are all available in ebook format, if you want to grab one, pour yourself a cup of cinnamon tea or egg nog, and hunker down by the fire for some merry mayhem!

All plot summaries are courtesy of Goodreads, and are reprinted subject to the fair use doctrine.

Edgar Award-winning editor Otto Penzler collects sixty of his all-time favorite holiday crime stories–many of which are difficult or nearly impossible to find anywhere else. From classic Victorian tales by Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Thomas Hardy, to contemporary stories by Sara Paretsky and Ed McBain, this collection touches on all aspects of the holiday season, and all types of mysteries. They are suspenseful, funny, frightening, and poignant.

So, this book is 654 pages long, with a total of 60 stories! I have only dipped into it at this point, but I like what I’ve read so far. I own it on kindle, but I can see the attraction of owning it in print, to mark up and dog ear and thump around. In a pinch, it could probably double as a weapon with which to bludgeon an unpleasant person to death (if one were at one’s country house and one had an inconvenient relative who was in the way of one’s inheritance or title, for example) should that become necessary!

So far, my favorite story is the Hercule Poirot short – The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. I also quite enjoyed the Ngaio Marsh story, featuring Inspector Alleyn and the Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael story entitled The Price of Light. At some point, I will finish this thing and do a full-on review of the entire collection!

A classic country-house murder mystery, ‘The Santa Klaus Murder’ begins with Aunt Mildred declaring that no good could come of the Melbury family Christmas gathering at their country residence Flaxmere. So when Sir Osmond Melbury, the family patriarch, is discovered — by a guest dressed as Santa Klaus —with a bullet in his head on Christmas Day, the festivities are plunged into chaos.

Nearly every member of the party stands to reap some sort of benefit from Sir Osmond’s death, but Santa Klaus, the one person who seems to have every opportunity to fire the shot, has no apparent motive. Various members of the family have their private suspicions about the identity of the murderer, but in the midst of mistrust, suspicion, and hatred, it emerges that there was not one Santa Klaus but two.

This new addition to the British Library Crime Classics series is a must-have for all fans of classic murder mystery and will delight anyone looking for a thrilling read during the holidays.

This is a gem from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction that was first published in 1936, and reprinted as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. It is a classic British country house murder, with a closed circle of possible suspects. The author used sort of a unique narrative technique, where she gave various characters first person chapters in the style of written “depositions”, as well as using the primary investigator, Colonel Halstock, to provide the backbone of the story. Everyone in the house had a reason to want Sir Osmond dead, not in the least because he is a singularly repellent victim, controlling and mean, who keeps close rein on the family purse strings. It isn’t as good as Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, frankly, but if you’ve already enjoyed that one, give this one a go!

CHRISTMAS COMES TWICE THIS YEAR WITH A PAIR OF DELICIOUS VICTORIAN MYSTERIES SET ON BOTH SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC.

A Christmas Hope

Claudine Burroughs dreads the holiday season. She feels she has nothing in common with her circle of wealthy, status-minded friends, and the only time she’s remotely happy is when she is volunteering at a women’s clinic, a job her husband strongly disapproves of. When Claudine meets a charming poet at a Yuletide gala, her spirits are finally lifted—until he is accused of killing a fellow guest. Believing in his innocence, Claudine vows to do her utmost to help. But it seems that hypocritical London society would rather send an innocent man to the gallows than expose the shocking truth about one of their own.

A New York Christmas

Jemima Pitt, the daughter of Thomas Pitt, head of Britain’s Special Branch, is crossing the Atlantic for the first time. Her companion, Delphinia Cardew, is to marry in a grand Manhattan affair that will join together two fabulously wealthy families. But a shadow darkens the occasion: Missing from the festivities is Delphinia’s disgraced mother—and the groom’s charismatic brother has asked Jemima to help him find her and forestall the scandal that will surely follow if the prodigal parent turns up at the wedding. From Hell’s Kitchen to Fifth Avenue, from the Lower East Side to Central Park, Jemima trudges through snowy streets, asking questions but getting few answers—and never suspecting that she is walking into mortal danger.

I love reading about the Victorian era, and combining the Victorian era, crime, and Christmas is cat nip to me. Anne Perry publishes a Christmas novella every year, and then every two years, they are published for the kindle in a bundle of two novellas. I can’t stomach spending $10.00 on one novella, but when they are bundled, and I get two for the tenner, I’m okay with it!

Of the two, I preferred the second, A New York Christmas. I haven’t kept up on the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novels, but I was delighted to see that their now grown daughter, Jemima, was the main character of this novella. I learned, as well, that Thomas Pitt has prospered mightily in his career, which has made me want to go back and pick up that series where I left it! This one was a 4 star read for me!

The first novella was fine as well. One of the things that Perry does in her holiday stories is to take a supporting character and develop a story around him or her. She dives deep into characterizations and relationships, which is often the strength of these stories. Claudine, the focus of this story, was unfamiliar to me, but I liked her a lot. She is a woman who is very much struggling with the traditional role of women in her Victorian society. I’d probably give this one a 3.5!

Do you read Christmas stories? What’s your jam – Christmas romance, mystery or something else?

The Poirot Project: Blue Train, End House, Lord Edgware & the Orient Express

The Poirot Project: Mystery of the Blue Train, Peril at End House, Lord Edgware Dies, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Published by Harper Collins

I read these over a year ago, and rather than do full blown reviews of each of them, I am just going to jot down my thoughts, impressions and memories. When I began the Christie Project, I considered reviewing each book as I read it, but decided against it because it is sometimes difficult to review books in a vacuum. Before I could review them, I felt like I needed, in my own mind, to have an understanding of where I would personally put the book in the overall series in terms of quality. Christie was prolific, and her work is definitely of varying quality even within her various series. Plus, it is difficult for me to come up with sufficient material for a review of a piece of detective fiction since being spoiler-free is critical.

So, now, with a bit of distance between myself and the books, these are my thoughts on books 6 through 10 of the Poirot series.

The Murder on the Blue Train (Poirot #6):

Year of publication: 1928
Setting/Locations: Train between England/France
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot

I thought that this was an exceptionally weak Poirot. I usually love books set on trains, but this one really did not work for me. I didn’t like the victim, Poirot was off his game, and the tie-in to the theft of the famous ruby, Heart of Fire, was unconvincing. Christie often uses the famous jewel thief trope in her mysteries, and I am always skeptical. It reminds me too much of the Pink Panther. Were there really jewel thieves that were so notorious that they received nicknames, like modern day serial killers? I don’t know, but I sort of don’t buy it. Anyway, this is a lower-tier Poirot, and apparently Christie herself didn’t think much of it! This is skippable, although it isn’t among the worst that she ever wrote!

The Peril at End House (Poirot #8)

Year of publication: 1932
Setting/Locations: English country
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp & Hastings

There is something about this one that I love. It never makes it onto “best of Christie lists,” but it is one of my favorite Poirots. This probably relates to the Cornwall setting, as I have a soft spot for books set on the Cornish Coast, and, as well, I really admire Christie’s cleverness in plotting this complex puzzle. I also love Inspector Japp even more than I love Hastings, so any book where he makes an appearance is probably going to be a winner for me. This one has a lot of moving parts, which Christie works together beautifully.

Lord Edgware Dies (Poirot #9)

Year of publication: 1933
Setting/Locations: England
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp and Hastings

Christie is moving into her strongest writing period at about this time, and Lord Edgware Dies is a strong entry in the Poirot series, although it doesn’t reach the level of Poirot’s next outing. However, there are some aspects of this book that I really liked – with Christie is important to pay attention to even stray remarks, because you never know what is going to turn out to be important at the end. This one also features Inspector Japp, going down the entirely wrong track, and a thoroughly narcissistic killer. It’s a good thing that Hercule Poirot didn’t actually retire, or the English jails would be full of the wrongfully accused!

The Murder on the Orient Express (Poirot #10)

Year of publication: 1934
Setting/Locations: Train/Croatia
Narration: third person
Investigator: Hercule Poirot

This is definitely my favorite Poirot mystery, and probably my favorite Christie mystery of all time. I love the closed circle trope, and Christie deploys it to fantastic effect in this novel. Just the idea of the “Orient Express” is glamorous, conjuring up images of art deco fixtures, crushed velvet curtains and women dressed in gorgeous 1930’s fashions.

orient-express

In addition, the victim is a truly terrible person, so one feels nothing but pleasure at his demise, and the solution is unbelievably clever. When I am asked to recommend a Christie mystery to a first time reader, this is my go to recommendation.

I skipped Black Coffee (Poirot #7) a novelisation of a play that wasn’t published until 1998, long after Dame Agatha shuffled off her mortal coil. I’ve heard it is terrible.

Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #4
Published by Harper Collins on 1926
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 288
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads

In the village of King's Abbot, a widow's sudden suicide sparks rumors that she murdered her first husband, was being blackmailed, and was carrying on a secret affair with the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. The following evening, Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study--but not before receiving a letter identifying the widow's blackmailer. King's Abbot is crawling with suspects, including a nervous butler, Ackroyd's wayward stepson, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, who has taken up residence in the victim's home. It's now up to the famous detective Hercule Poirot, who has retired to King's Abbot to garden, to solve the case of who killed Roger Ackroyd--a task in which he is aided by the village doctor and narrator, James Sheppard, and by Sheppard's ingenious sister, Caroline.

This is book 4 of Christie’s books featuring Hercule Poirot, and is the book that made her a household name.

I’ve read the first 23 Poirot books in the last few months. I’ve been holding off posting full reviews because I wanted to give the books a chance to percolate in my mind for a bit, and get to know Hercule a little bit better. Not that I hadn’t read any Poirot books before embarking on this project – I had. But I hadn’t read them in any sort of a systematic, consistent, or ordered fashion.

The quality of the series overall is pretty high, although they are some huge clunkers in the bunch. Roger Ackroyd, however, is not one of them. In fact, it remains one of the highlights of the series for me, and is a very unique entry into the Poirot canon. It is one of the only (if not THE only) Poirot books that is written in first person narrative by one of the characters, the village doctor, James Sheppard. Neither Inspector Japp nor Hastings make any appearance in this book, and Sheppard takes on the role of “sidekick”. Christie is experimenting with narrative styles in this book, early in her career, and she does it very successfully. The identity of the murder is shocking and the way that Christie reveals it is brilliantly clever, on par with the solution in And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express for sheer inventiveness.

It’s my general plan to finish the Poirot books this year, at which point I will rank them in my personal order of best to worst. I’ve read enough to know that Roger Ackroyd isn’t going to be number one on the list, but I’m surmising that it’ll easily make the top ten.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha ChristieThe Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Series: Hercule Poirot #1
on 1920
Pages: 224
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads

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 guests, 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.

Here, in her first published mystery, Agatha Christie introduces us to her beloved Belgian protagonist, inspector Hercule Poirot, who methodically pieces together the intricate evidence of this bewildering crime. From his very first appearance, Poirot amuses us with his oddly fastidious habits--then astonishes us with the power of his razor-sharp mind. Christie keeps us guessing as to the murderer's identity until Poirot finally presents his ingenious solution to this landmark mystery. And, voila, one of the genre's most famous sleuths is born.

"You'll feel better after a nice cup of tea, m'm."

“You’ll feel better after a nice cup of tea, m’m.”

In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie introduced Hercule Poirot, one of literatures most recognizable characters. Poirot was small, neat, and a bit affected. He owes a great debt to Sherlock Holmes, who, although the two character’s appearances are entirely different, share the trait of using impersonal objectivity and logic in the solving of crimes.

Also introduced in The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Hastings, who fulfills the role of Watson to Poirot’s Sherlock – the slightly dense assistant.

Growing up, my father was a great fan of Dame Christie, so I read probably dozens of her books. Even the solutions are mostly left to the dimness of history, though, so rereading them is a pleasurable exercise. One of the things that I enjoy most about Christie is her engaging characters. She frequently wrote about bright young things, as in this description of one of the characters: Mary Cavendish – as seen through the eyes of Hasting.

“I shall never forget my first sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall, slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense of slumbering fire that seemed to find expression only in those wonderful tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, different 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 civilized body – all these things are burnt into my memory. I shall never forget them.”

Reading Christie is like dropping into post-world war I English society. It feels vaguely Edwardian – an idealized period of peace and prosperity amongst the upper classes, but she will often obliquely acknowledge the tension that provided an undercurrent to British society during this time period. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is no exception to this idea, as all of the major players in the novel are members of the British leisure class. Major financial pressures on this class are alluded to throughout the course of the novel – things like whopping death duties (known in America as “estate taxes), and the immense costs of upkeep on giant estates that are relics from a rapidly disappearing era present significant burdens on the characters. The setting of Ms. Christie’s books is enjoyable and populated with well-dressed characters having tea, and playing vigorous games of tennis or taking long country walks.

Agatha Christie excelled at the puzzle subset of mystery novels, and was a master of the whodunit and the locked room mystery. Misdirection abounds, and the reveal is always a primary point to her books. No spoilers here – the journey is about 75% of the fun, but revealing the solution to the mystery in a book discussion is just plain mean. If people want to know whodunit, they should read the book.

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