Bet On It: An Inside Look At The Mysterious Affair At Styles cover

Bet On It: An Inside Look At The Mysterious Affair At Styles

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If you have yet to read The Mysterious Affair at Styles you might like to have a literary wager with yourself before you start.
NoteStream Book Club Director David Gardner shares a bit of background behind Agatha Christie's first published novel!

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Bet On It: An Inside Look At The Mysterious Affair At Styles

If you have yet to read The Mysterious Affair at Styles you might like to have a literary wager with yourself before you start.

Agatha Christie wrote her first novel as a result of a dare by her sister Madge, who challenged her to write a story. More than that, the story should be composed in such a way that the reader would not be able to spot the murderer even though they would be provided with the same clues as the detective.

So the challenge is on: you, the reader, versus Hercule Poirot, one of fiction’s most enduring and intelligent sleuths.

Agatha Christie in 1925

Christie’s publishers clearly had their money on the writer.

“The author has certainly won her bet, and in addition to a most ingenious plot of the best detective type she has introduced a new type of detective in the shape of a Belgian,” read the dust-jacket of the first edition.

The novel, written in 1916, introduced Poirot at the same time as it announced Christie’s arrival as a masterful whodunnit author.

She drew inspiration for the character while working as a volunteer at the Torquay hospital dispensary in Devon, England during the First World War, where she learned about various medicines. Knowing this it’s perhaps not so surprising that poison by strychnine was her murder method of choice in her first mystery.

Much less predictable was that she zeroed in on a “colony of Belgian refugees” being cared for at the local church during the war. Poirot would become one of a group of fictional Belgians staying in similar circumstances in a spare cottage at Styles, the grand house in Essex on the green belt outskirts of London that serves as the location for the story.

It is in the village of Styles St Mary where this “quaint dandyfied little man,” as Poirot is described in the book, first meets Captain Arthur Hastings, his bumbling Old Etonian sidekick.

The story begins with Hastings, back in England after being wounded in the First World War, recuperating at the beautiful Styles Court with his friend John Cavendish.

Ensconced with his old pal’s family, Hastings meets Cavendish’s step-mother, Emily Inglethorpe, and her new husband, Alfred. But the tranquility is short-lived. When Mrs Inglethorpe is found poisoned, suspicion falls on the family, and another old friend.

It’s time for Poirot to do his thing.

In the short term, the fortuitous meeting between Hastings and Poirot helps ensnare the Belgian into the complexities of an English family murder. And for the next half a century, Hastings would remain a loyal companion of the “wonderfully clever” foreigner.

After being rejected by six publishers, the book was finally published in 1920, four years after it was completed.

The New York Times Book Review wrote at the time: “Though this may be the first published book of Miss Agatha Christie, she betrays the cunning of an old hand.”

"The only fault this story has is that it is almost too ingenious,” remarked the Times Literary Supplement.

Dustjacket illustration of the first edition in both the UK and the US

The novel actually received its first publication as an eighteen-part serialization in The Times newspaper's Colonial Edition from 27 February to 26 June 1920.

I’ll admit, the final reveal was certainly way beyond my powers of deduction so I’ll gladly pay my gambling debt. Please let us here at NoteStream know how your investigative skills compare with the great Hercule Poirot.

Start reading The Mysterious Affair At Styles now!