Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie

I have been watching the TV series, Agatha Christie's Poirot. I must say that I have had a splendid time of that series. It is like watching good TV, but retro to the 70s. Those were some golden years of television entertainment, and this could have stood up to the best of them. It's really an instant classic.

Before the show, I suppose I had a bit of curiosity about the author and her books. Now, since the show, I am even more interested in her stories. There are several of them available for free at

The books at are well organized. They are minimalist: could be better. But I've paid for books with much worse. In any case, go to for your free copy.

One thing that's interesting about Agatha Christie, is that she is the most singularly successful author of the last century. She has sold more of her novels than any other aside from the authors of the Bible and Shakespeare. (See Wikipedia if that seems too unbelievable). I have never read any of her books, and it's been sitting in my Kindle gathering dust. That is, until I found so much enjoyment out of the TV production.

Now, into the book a bit. I'm going to contrast the writing style of Agatha Christie and Zane Grey. The reason for this is that I find Christie's descriptions of the physical properties of her scenes to be anemic. This is not just the setting, but also the characters. This was Grey's particular strength. If it were not for the fact that I had watched this episode, not to mention subsequent episodes, I would have had a poor picture of her scenes. I would not have been able to get much from Christie. The only character who gets much of a description is Poirot, the star of the mysteries, "Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible. I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandyfied little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police." But for the rest of them, the descriptions are very nearly nonexistent. And, as mentioned before, the setting of the house or mansion is almost nonexistent as well. Thanks to the TV series, however, I was able to fill that void. Quite easily I could imagine the Poirot who dressed much like a penguin, whose 'military moustache', which means nothing to me (what does that mean exactly, 'military moustache'?). I don't know if Agatha had the heavily waxed (or whatever substance was used to make Poirot's moustache so unique) moustache with the left and right ends made into upturned points or not. But, that's what we got from the TV movies. As such, it was relatively easy to supplement the lack of character descriptions and settings with those provided by the TV show. I must say, it worked magically. Even to the accent, there are no words to describe it. I therefore hear David Suchet's representation.

The story is written from the somewhat limited intelligence (when contrasted with Poirot: however, everyone when contrasted with Poirot has a limited intelligence) of his sort-of-side-kick. He is to Poirot what Watson was to Sherlock Holmes. That is, he is a kind of foil that allows the limited intelligence of the reader to unravel the details to the mystery. His occasional dismissals of Poirot's intelligence or capability

Christie has from time to time a dry sense of humour. The bungles and interpretations which the narrator, Hastings, makes of Poirot when he seems at times to interpret Poirot as being past his prime or off his rocker add a certain levity to certain situations.

Where Christie excels is her efficient descriptions of character reactions, dialogue, and thoughts. Hastings is something of a fly on the wall. He is in fact quite intelligent. Without that intelligence, there would have been no story. For, he is the one whose eyes we borrow. It is also, ultimately, his observation of Poirot which results in the key which helps Poirot unlock the entire mystery behind the death of his and his fellow Belgian expatriates.

I enjoyed this book, but I wonder how much I would have enjoyed it without the help of the Television series.