If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, I’m sure you’re already familiar with Hercule Poirot, the eccentric Belgian detective who manages to solve virtually every murder he stumbles across. But did you know The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the novel where he first appears? Seeing the way the detective is introduced in this first Poirot novel is a little like getting a “sneak preview” of what’s to come in future stories about this unusual sleuth, since the methods he uses are always the same – effective, but unpredictable.
This book was also Agatha Christie’s first published novel. She began writing it in 1916, during World War I, in response to a challenge from her older sister, Madge. Her sister had bet Christie she wouldn’t be able to write a detective novel in which the reader would be unable to correctly guess the murderer. It took four years for Christie to find a publisher, but following the success of the book when it WAS finally published in 1920, Christie knew she’d won the bet.
Inspiration for Characters and Plot
Two elements of the story in The Mysterious Affair at Styles – the murder weapon and the main character – were inspired by Christie’s wartime experience as a volunteer at the local hospital, in her hometown of Torquay, Devon, England.
The first inspiration came through her experience with a variety of medicines, since she often helped in the hospital’s dispensary. That knowledge made it easy for her to figure out how to use poison as the murder weapon. (Over the years, pathologists have sometimes used the information in her stories to help them solve real-life cases of poisoning.)
The inspiration to create a detective who was Belgian occurred because the town had become home to many Belgian refugees during the war, some of whom she had treated in the hospital.
Another character, Captain Arthur Hastings, takes on the role of narrator (and friend) in the story, similar to the relationship Dr. Watson has with Sherlock Holmes. (Christie admitted that she’d been a fan of detective novels long before writing her own.)
A Deeper Look at This First Poirot Novel
Aside from the way Christie wove together all the parts of this story’s complicated plot, other aspects of this novel are worth mentioning too.
- One reviewer commented on the way the book shows unrest among servants about the way the world was changing. She called it a “really fascinating piece of literary history.”
- Another review was actually about Great Britain’s film version of the story, but because it apparently follows the book very closely, I decided to include it: “Christie grew up in a world similar to Stiles Court, and while she moved on with the world, she missed it, and preserved it in her stories.”
- This quote from The Mysterious Affair at Styles comes from the book itself, and gives a glimpse into the way Poirot approaches ALL of his cases: “This affair must all be unraveled from within.” Tapping his forehead, he adds, “These little grey cells. It is ‘up to them’ – as you say over here.”
After the now-famous detective’s star role in this first Poirot novel, the Belgian sleuth appears in 32 more novels, two plays, and more than 50 short stories – all published between 1920 and 1975.
Learn More at Tea, Tonic & Toxin
We enjoy sharing classics like this with you here at Tea, Tonic & Toxin! And in 2023, we’re featuring 12 new novels – including this one by Agatha Christie. Check out our page devoted to The Mysterious Affair at Styles. And be sure to subscribe now so you don’t miss each new episode when it comes out!