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Amber's Thoughts

Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series

 

 

Mastery of Mystery

The Mysterious Affair at Styles - Agatha Christie

Christie starts not with a crime but with people—the narrator, Hastings, and his friendship with John Cavendish. Each person she introduces is vivid, whether likeable or not, eccentric or conventional, and enough of the characters are likeable that she makes sure the reader cares what happens. There’s also sufficient tension around the household before the murder that she keeps the reader alert to what might go wrong.

 

The book is a puzzle; the characters make it a puzzle worth solving. Every event is woven into the main plot. Every relationship is relevant. There aren’t subplots, only red herrings. The reader is able to keep up with Hastings in his attempts to solve the mystery, but not Poirot, and the limited point of view is effective.

I did find the success of a particular disguise questionable; I doubt it would have looked realistic no matter who was wearing it. But that was the only weakness in the whole story.

 

WWI is in the background, part of the general setting and yet also essential to the plot. Without the war, Poirot, a Belgian, wouldn’t be in England. Cynthia probably wouldn’t be working in a hospital dispensary. Hastings wouldn’t be ‘invalided out” of the service and visiting John. And yet the book doesn’t feel ninety-nine years old. A few things the characters say are jarring to current sensibilities, but overall, it’s aged well. The medicines of the time are fascinating. The language is polished and spare, which no doubt contributes to the book’s vitality as it approaches a century in print.