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Intro to Agatha: The Mysterious Affair at Styles | 1920

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"The company once assembled, Poirot rose from his seat with the air of a popular lecturer, and bowed politely to his audience. 'Messieurs, mesdames...'" -The Mysterious Affair at Styles, p. 160-161.

Welcome to week one of The Year of Agatha! There is no better place to kick off a year of reading through Agatha Christie's complete works than where it all began: The Mysterious Affair at Styles. (FUN FACT: This book was Agatha's first hit, other than a few short stories she had published here and there, and she was so pumped that she named her first house Styles, after this fictional Essex manse.)

The Sum of It:

A cast of thousands (well not literally...):
(But seriously there are a lot of charming auburn haired ladies and manly landed gentry. Plus a troup of Belgian refugees. And farmers. #digress) Styles is the first time we meet Agatha's beloved Belgian: Hercule Poirot. Charming, already notoriously proficient at his job as a detective, "dandified" and astute as they come, we can immediately see why Agatha came back to him again and again, with the reading public in tow. But Poirot is not the only Christie staple we meet in Styles. Captain Arthur Hastings, Poirot's loyal (although prone to being a bit dim and completely lacking self-awareness) companion, begins his long-standing tradition of narration with this case. We also meet Scotland Yard's Chief Inspector James Japp ("Jimmy Japp!" as Poirot calls him) who, despite seeming wholly incompetent at solving crimes, remains with us through the entirety of the Poirot universe (and sometimes moonlights in other books!).

How the "coco" crumbles:
Thirty-year-old Hastings, home in England from the front lines of WWI, spends his month of sick leave with his old pal, John Cavendish, at the Cavendish family estate: Styles. It's all fun and games until John's kind (yet also fairly bossy and with dubious taste in fellas) mother, Emily, dies suddenly in the night. The doctors (yes, two of them show up) cry POISON! so Hastings enlists Poirot (who is a Belgian refugee conveniently refugee-ing in the same village, boy is England small) to catch the murderer. But surely the killer is just her much younger husband (described as basically having the style sense of Rasputin) who stands to inherit everything, right? But could it be that simple? Missing coffee mugs and forced locks and the farmer's wife must all be sorted before Poirot can get to the bottom of who killed poor, rich Mrs. Inglethorp.

And the nominees for best supporting character are...
POISON! Agatha put her wartime pharmacist chemistry skills to great use in this book. You'll never think of bromide in the same way...(assuming you've ever thought of bromide. YOU WILL).

Poirot's Belgian Roommates: They make a very brief appearance (mostly just to tell Hastings that Poirot isn't home), but one has to stop and wonder....did they keep a chores calendar?

Hastings' Love Life: Darling Arthur falls in love with no less than two women in this book. This is not an isolated incidence.

Hefty Cross-Examination: Move over, The Good Wife, there is a new sheriff in town and his name is Sir Ernest Heavyweather, K. C. (aka early 20th century British for attorney).

Scraps of Paper! Please see the actual example below:
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The YOA Treatment:

Styles is the first time we are introduced to Poirot and his uber-methodical process of sleuthing. Agatha doesn't give us too much detail about the Poirot origin story in this case, beyond telling us he a) is a bit on the older side, b) was a big deal in the Belgian police force back in the day, and c) he is a major neat freak. We are also given a delightful first taste of the Poirot Way of Solving Crime. While he does a bit of CSI stuff (collecting fragments of thread, collecting coffee samples for analysis, and picking a lot of stuff up with tiny tweezers), Poirot is most fond of enumerating interesting tidbits in his head to let his "little grey cells" do the hard work. "We will arrange the facts, neatly, each in his proper place," he says to Hastings, while scribbling in a notebook. 

But while Poirot prefers order and method, he isn't too high brow to ignore the good old gut feeling. In Styles Poirot talks about feeling something in your "heart of hearts!" and trusting your instincts. And Poirot isn't the only Agatha detective who relies on intuition when it comes to crime. Check back on Monday (January 11th) for our post on The Secret Adversary, which features a lot of #gutfeeling, and a whole lot of ADVENTURE!

*Extra Bonus Points: This great post about Styles becoming a Penguin paperback on A Penguin a Week blog.

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