Notes on The Mysterious Affair of Styles

Cavendish Court EC3, London, UK.

Cavendish Court EC3, London, UK.

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of publication: 1920

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot: Styles Court at Styles St. Mary, the home of the Cavendishes. Arrived on 5th July, Hastings had been invited to stay over at the house. On 17th, the stepmother of John and Lawrence Cavendish died at 5 am in her bedroom. At the inquest, the cause of death was of strychnine poisoning.

It was Hercule Poirot’s first case, no sooner had he arrived in England. Hastings brought him into Styles Court to solve the cunning mind of the perpetrators.

‘Well, I’ve always had a secret hankering to be a detective,’ said Hastings.

Highlights:

Poirot was introduced with Sherlock Holmes in mind. As a matter of fact, Holmes was referred first before the subject was changed to the Belgian detective.  Eccentric and peculiar to the eyes of the English, “the foreigner”was courteous and grateful to the generosity of Emily Inglethorp who accommodated him and other Belgians in the village.

Furthermore, Poirot’s behaviour continually raised eyebrows to everyone concerned.  He  called Hastings a “stuck pig” when he had not made himself useful. In the end, he rebuked him with “you old villain”. Nonetheless, Poirot cussed himself ”triple pig” when he had realised that the murderer had been one step ahead.

Be that as it may, the bewilderment towards Poirot’s approach was balanced through Inspector Japp and Hastings. The former had difficulty in pronouncing Monsieur having changed addressing the Belgian from Mr. to “Moosier” twice. To which Poirot replied with a smile. When Hastings was thought he had been fooled by Poirot, the detective pointed out in the last chapter: ‘…Because, mon ami, it was the law of your country that a man once acquitted can never be tried again for the same offence. Aha! but it was clever – his idea….’

Towards the end, it was intriguing that there was little about Poirot’s background. It was only through Hastings’s account readers surmised that the sleuth had come to Britain as a refugee. Something which was later admitted and deliberated further in Three-Act Tragedy (1934). Why it did take longer to for Christie to have done so is a mystery.

On the whole, Christie’s way of getting Poirot into the mind of the readers was tactful. Poirot in a nutshell was a clean break from Holmes “the Victorian detective”. For the foreigner was the one who lived in the new era after the War.

Cast of Characters:

Alfred Inglethorp (Emily’s new husband)

Dr. Bauerstein (a poison expert)

Cynthia Murdoch (Emily Inglethorp’s schoolfellow daughter)

Evelyn Howard (Alfred’s Inglethorp’s cousin)

Emily Inglethorp (the stepmother)

John Cavendish (elder stepson)

Hastings (John Cavendish’s old friend)

Lawrence Cavendish (younger stepson)

Mary Cavendish (John’s wife)

The twists:

– The delay of strychnine effect to the victim

– Two respective scandals between husband and wife overheard by two different people

– The last link: a letter. It was finally was found in the crime scene by Poirot with the aid of Mr. Hastings’s recollection.

– A friend’s betrayal – or what was considered as one.

 

Clues:

Alfred Inglethorp:

‘Pardon me, you have been misinformed. I had no quarrel with my dear wife. The whole story is absolutely untrue. I was absent from the house the entire afternoon’.

Cyntia Murdoch: ‘I never take it (sugar) in coffee’.

Emily Inglethorp:

‘My dear Mary, it has nothing to do with that matter’( her reply to Mary Cavendish’s enquiry: ‘Then you won’t show it to me?’).

‘It’s almost too hot. We shall have a thunderstorm’.

‘Alfred – Alfred –‘

Evelyn Howard: ‘Talk – talk – talk! When all the time we know perfectly well…’

Hercule Poirot: ‘…Blood tells – always remember that- blood tells’.

John Cavendish:

“Rotten little bounder!” he said savagely (in reference to Alfred Inglethorp).

‘..My wife works regularly “on the land”. She is up at every five morning to milk, and keeps at it steadily until lunch-time..”

‘My brother Lawrence is convinced that we are making a fuss over nothing. He says that everything points to its being a simple case of heart failure’.

 

The most fascinating character: Emily Inglethorp.

Her characters resembled a famous personality who died at the beginning of the 20th century. Generous but dominating, Mrs. Inglethorp ruled the roost in Styles Court. In her seventy she was remarried to a man twenty-five years her junior.

In Hastings’s words: ‘Mrs. Cavendish, who had married John’s father when he was a widower with two sons, had been a handsome woman of middle-age as I remembered her. She certainly could not be a day less than seventy now. I recalled her as an energetic, autocratic personality, somewhat inclined to charitable and social notoriety, with a fondness for opening bazaars and playing the Lady Bountiful. She was a most generous woman, and possessed a considerable fortune of her own.

In Evelyn Howard’s words: ‘…She never let people forget what she had done for them – and that way, she missed love. Don’t think she ever realized it , though, or felt the lack of it…’

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