The Mysterious Affair at Styles

stylesby Agatha Christie
Mystery
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel: October, 1920

I went through a huge Agatha Christie phase when I was around fifteen, and I decided to revisit her first book as my classic read this month. This was fun! What I found most intriguing was the sparse, simple narrative that disguised such an intricate plot. I expected it to sound complicated as part of the misdirection, but I should have known better. Christie didn’t need to use cheap tricks to fool you–she just leads you through a maze of clues and red herrings, teasingly coy the entire time.

Hercule Poirot, her fastidious little Belgian detective, enters as an older man, his past exploits preceding him via his friend Hastings, our narrator. Hastings is visiting his friend John in the country, and the small group of family and staff is a bit tense from the remarriage of John’s mother to a much younger man. Everyone suspects he’s a gold-digger–so when Emily Inglethorp is murdered one night, it’s an open-and-shut case. But Hastings mentions it to Poirot, and Poirot reveals nothing is as it seems.

It’s a traditional format–the introduction to the people staying at the house, the crime, the investigation, the suspicions, the reveal–and it’s a fun read for the most part. Bits of it get repetitive, but that might have been Christie attempting to play fair with her readers. Even knowing her reputation–even on my guard against the false trails–I failed to guess the murderer (though I did figure out some side twists). I recommend this for anyone wanting a brain teaser or a dip into a wide variety of murder mysteries!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Mysterious Affair at Styles is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – One of his longer stories featuring the world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson. They investigate a family in the English countryside convinced they are cursed and haunted by a giant ghostly dog.
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – The start of a sharp, funny, dark series featuring the curmudgeon detective Cormoran Strike and his charming (if a bit naive) assistant Robin. They investigate a high-profile celebrity murder together. An excellent throwback to noir detective TV.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – The thriller that took the country by storm a few years ago. Nick’s wife Amy disappears under highly suspicious circumstances. Soon, Nick is charged with her murder, despite his certainty that she isn’t dead.
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – If what you really want is another Christie mystery, this is widely regarded as one of her best. Put ten people with dark secrets on an island and watch them start dying off. Who is the killer?

 

Career of Evil

Career of Evilby Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Mystery
3 of 5 stars
Book 3 in a continuing series

Although I enjoyed this installment for the most part, it’s my least favorite in this suspenseful crime noir series. Detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, have a severed leg on their hands, and their third high-profile murder case together. This one manages to unnerve the unflappable Strike, and Robin is determined to hide her fear. The leg was addressed to her.

As they begin their investigation into three grisly men from Strike’s past, Robin tries to cope with the additional stress of her upcoming wedding to Matthew, who is still displeased with her low-paying, dangerous job.

There are elements of the things I loved in The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm—Strike and Robin’s banter, the author’s acute sense of humor and observation, and the feeling of an old, black-and-white detective show. Unfortunately, this time around the humor isn’t enough to lighten the black mood of the increasingly dark plot, and the pacing alternately speeds through important events or crawls like molasses through mundane details. It’s a cat-and-mouse game with a slightly overweight, confused cat. I’m already looking forward to the next book in spite of all that, but I’m a little wary. Still, as someone who doesn’t read many mystery/thriller novels, it’s a nice diversion.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Career of Evil is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – Like so many people, this was my introduction to the acclaimed mystery author. It’s addictive and highly enjoyable, but if Hercule Poirot isn’t to your taste, I suggest her stories featuring Tommy and Tuppence or perhaps Miss Marple. All of them have a string of cases that are impossible to solve independently.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The heart of detective noir, Sherlock Holmes stories obviously have an older tone but still possess a good sense of humor and suspense. This is one of the creepier tales in the collection and a good evening’s read.
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe – Before Sherlock Holmes there was C. Auguste Dupin. Poe created the detective genre and its tropes, only to be eclipsed by a more famous investigator a few years later, but this is still worth a read and very creepy.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Set in small-town Missouri, this novel chronicles the turbulent relationship of Nick and Amy Dunne. We begin with Amy’s disappearance and possibly murder as Nick tries to piece together what happened to his wife without letting on to the public that he doesn’t miss her that much. This has an addictive plot, excellent writing, and a fantastic ending. (You can judge that statement after you’ve read it).

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