Friday, June 15, 2007

The Mysterious Affair At Styles, by Agatha Christie

Got it yesterday, sat up late to finish reading it, loved it, loved it. But then, I am already a big fan of Agatha Christie's writing, so perhaps it would be more helpful to break this review up into two parts, to wit, A.C. in general, and this book in particular.

I love reading books by A.C. Despite the proliferation of her books (usually a good sign that the author has long run dry of creativity and is simply churning out books to keep the money flowing in), she maintains a strong showing, with good quality narrative, witty dialogue, and fairly fresh characters and plots. True, you do get to recognise a few familiar stock characters (the plucky young girl, the aimless young man who turns out to be really a decent chap, the gruff old soldier type), but you like them anyway because they really work. I think my favourite A.C. books are The Secret of Chimneys, and all the Tommy and Tuppence stories.

I am almost always completely blindsided by the final twist that leads to the unraveling of the whodunnit. Perhaps, with a bit of thoughtful deduction, I might put the clues together to better purpose and hit a bit closer to the truth on my own. But I am always so engrossed toward the end of the book that my one goal is to readreadREAD as fast as possible so as to uncover the mystery. Hence, surprise.

The books span quite an era, from pre-war Britain to the postmodern '60s. It's interesting to read about quiet little village life, bustling London life, and everything in between. Train schedules, servants, and local vicarages play a prominent role in most of these stories, which is quaint and charming.

As far as this book goes, while I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, I certainly wouldn't consider it one of her strongest. There were a couple of things that struck me as either sloppy, rushed, or careless in the plot. For one thing, the spy angle kind of dropped off the plot, once that sensation had played merry havoc with the characters. In fact, there was the alleged spy himself, giving evidence at the London trial months later, none the worse for wear, we presume. That seemed a bit anticlimactic. For another thing, the lag in plot time between the initial events and the London trial seemed rather forced. There we were, a few months later, with not even asterisks to show for all the time lapsed. For another thing, it seemed rather odd that the intrigue with Mrs. Raikes was such an inscrutable rabbit trail to the detectives the whole time. If the WHOLE VILLAGE knew what was really going on, you'd think that Poirot or Hastings might have happened to catch a bit of the village gossip on their own, instead of getting it all second-hand from the servants. In fact, the villagers really come into the story very little.

For the final thing, which is the only reason the Hercule Poirot stories are not my favourites, you simply don't have enough information to unravel the mystery because that annoying H.P. insists on keeping things to himself. Supposedly he does this to teach his rather slow friend Hastings his little grey method, but stolid Hastings himself is enough to drive me crazy. 'I could see he knew the answer, but my wonded pride forbade me from pressing him further.' Yeah, well, the silent treatment hurts most the one practising it. Hang the pride, just TELL me already!!

But the mystery was solidly done, and I was properly flabbergasted at the end, having gamely followed up all the rabbit trails and red herrings the author so temptingly dangled before me. No, wait, some of the things I saw through, but only because Hastings made such a big deal over it. As soon as Hastings gets an idea in his head, I can pretty much dismiss it out of hand.

Another thing I love about the A.C. books, which also came off well in this one, is the handling of relationships. There generally is a love affair or two, and with few exceptions these things generally come off well in the end, with generally well-behaved principals in the meantime. These are very clean, wholesome books.

Fun stuff!


At 11:05 AM, Blogger Queen of Carrots said...

I always love an A.C. mystery for a fun read. Hastings does always annoy me, but then the detective sidekick usually does, whether he's obstinately stupid like Hastings or obsequiously stupid like Watson. About the only sidekick I can think of that I like at all is Flambeau, and he really doesn't come into the Father Brown mysteries as a sidekick that often.

Poirot is a fun character to watch in action, although he does keep too much information to himself. I need to get DOB to pick up some Poirot DVDs from the library some time so we can watch him together.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Alaina said...

British mysteries are just a lot of fun in general! (Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, G.K. Chesterton, Ellis Peters, etc.) I always have such fun being
surprised at the end that I don't *want* to try solving it myself. This particular story I'd actually seen the BBC already, but it was fun reading the story just to enjoy the writing and to recall some details and clues I'd forgotten.

Of course the books are always better, but some of the Poirot films are pretty good (though a few are a little slow and sometimes difficult to hear - muffled). I enjoyed One, Two, Buckle my Shoe, and Peril at End House.

At 10:59 PM, Blogger Sherry said...

Bunter, Lord Peter WImsey's "sidekick", assistant and gnetleman's servant, is a rather satisfying companion and partner in detection. hastings and Watson serve only to display the brilliance of their much more intelligent detctive friends.

At 7:25 PM, Blogger Queen of Carrots said...

How could I forget Bunter? *headsmack* He's almost as competent as Jeeves. There must be something about being a butler. I want one.

At 10:31 PM, Blogger Carrie said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this read and I thank Ani for it!

Favorite quote: "Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master." (Sometimes I, myself, need to remember now and again!)

I love how British mysteries cause accents to spring forth in your mind and you can "hear" them talk. It just leaps off the page. However, when I try to verbally recreate said accents, I fail miserably. At least it works in my head.

I, too, get so lost in the story that I am usually surprised by the outcome. I never try to solve the mystery myself. Sometimes it starts to feel obvious, but mostly I'm just wrapped up in the details and forget the bigger picture of what I'm reading.

Anyhoo, very enjoyable all the way around!

At 4:00 PM, Blogger Sky said...

Agatha Christie; she was a genius! Her books are good for blue days, red days and all the days in between!
Speaking of accents CB..... did I ever tell you that I did my vows during our wedding ceremony with a BRITISH accent???? Yes. Seriously. I couldn't stop! Our pastor and Mike kept looking at me quite quizzically!
Evidently I watched Pride and Prejudice waaaaaaaay too much the previous summer!

MY favorite Affair at Styles excerpt;

Poirot nodded absently. He seemed absorbed in thought; so much so that my curiosity was aroused.
"What is it? You are not attending to what I say."
"It is true, my friend. I am much worried."
"Because Mademoiselle Cynthia does not take sugar in her coffee."

It's such a Poirot line!

I agree that Hastings is rather dull. I absolutely adore Bunter!

If you love Agatha Christie you might try Ngaio Marsh, she wrote the same types of books during the same period. I don't think her plots are as brilliant as AC's but they are enjoyable.

At 8:51 PM, Blogger Anneke said...

I've always wondering if A.C. invented Hercule Poirot from a person she knew in real life. Perhaps he is a combination of several people who had such strange and unforgettable quirks that she had to invent a character such as Poirot. That's my theory anyway!
I was surprised to find that this was the first mystery ever published by A.C. A great first try. My favorite ones, though, have always been the Tommy and Tuppence mysteries. I look forward to reading Ngaio Marsh.

At 4:21 AM, Blogger SEM said...

One of the last I read was a little known Ariadne Oliver story (she appears in 7 novels, six of which with Hercule Poirot). She's a detective novelist. The story was "Hallowe'en Party" (1969), which to date has not been made into a film. It was really quite good. Check it out...


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