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Peril at End House: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) Paperback – October 25, 2011
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“The actual solution is quite unusually ingenious.” (Times Literary Supplement (London))
From the Back Cover
On holiday on the Cornish Riviera, Hercule Poirot is alarmed to hear pretty Nick Buckley describe her recent “accidental brushes with death.” First, on a treacherous Cornish hillside, the brakes on her car failed. Then, on a coastal path, a falling boulder missed her by inches. Later, an oil painting fell and almost crushed her in bed.
So when Poirot finds a bullet hole in Nick’s sun hat, he decides that this girl needs his help. Can he find the would-be killer before he hits his target?
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I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery. I thought it played fair with the reader. I loved Hercule Poirot. I cannot believe I hadn't read this before and have missed out on this classic series. I'm going to work others into my reading schedule (already overloaded!) for next year.
If you enjoy classic mysteries, try this. If you've read it long ago, I think you might enjoy revisiting it.
When I have that experience, I reach for an Agatha Christie novel.
I read my first Christie book back in the early 80s, when I was a teenager (the first Christie I read was “Curtain”, Christies last book). I’ve read them all several times over the years. I don’t read them because they are excellent (there are only a few I’d consider as a 5-star read). I read them because Christie was good at telling a story. Sure, some of her characterizations may be a little two-dimensional, and some of them are less interesting than others. But, still: Christie had a way of getting you to turn the pages.
I’ve decided that perhaps it is time for me to read Christie in order. Not that her series needs to be read in order, like many of the modern detective novels do. There’s little in the way of backstory for Poirot or Miss Marple, so there is really no need to read them in order. It’s more of an experiment, really: to watch her writing style, to see if it changes as she becomes more famous.
Hence, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” Dame Agatha’s first book, in which we meet the man who (thanks to David Suchet’s definitive portrayal) is now world famous: Hercule Poirot.
Poirot is a retired Belgian policeman, now a displaced refugee (the book was written, and takes place during the years of the First World War) who has only recently arrived in England, and is living in the village of Styles St. Mary. A chance encounter with an old friend, Hastings --who is staying at Styles Court, a guest of the Cavendish family – places Poirot on the scene for the first murder he’ll solve in England: the death of Emily Cavendish, the wealthy owner of Styles Court.
Compared to the more action-oriented plots of many of today’s mysteries, Christie’s tales are much more leisurely. In this story, the only real action is Poirot, dashing like a madman, trying to find a car to take him to London to search for more information. Other than that, the story unfolds at Styles Court.
Others have given more story details, so I’ll stick to the merits. First, and foremost, is Poirot. His characteristic egoism, his funny mannerisms, his little grey cells, all combine to make one of detective fiction’s most memorable characters. And, like the great Sherlock Holmes, Poirot has a sidekick in Hastings, the one who’s always a few steps behind, while thinking that perhaps Poirot has finally gotten too old. (As a side note: Hastings does not appear in all of the Poirot novels).
This story, like most of Christie’s tales involve a small handful of suspects, each with motive for murder and plenty of red-herrings. But in the end, Poirot proves that he still has what it takes to solve a complex, devious crime.
As I finished reading this book I was surprised that it didn’t feel dated. It reads more like historical fiction than a dated Cold War spy novel. Sure, there’s still servants, and not always a phone; cars and gas can be tough to come by. But, the overall feel of the story feels relatively timeless: love, revenge, hidden passions, and deep secrets never seem to age. It would take very little to change this to a tale set in the present day.
The story moves quickly, though there is a part in the middle where things seem to bog down a little, but, in a book that’s less than 300 pages long, the story picks up again.
One of the fascinating things about rereading Christie is seeing how good she was at dropping clues and of willfully misdirecting the reader along the way.
With the exception of Poirot’s last case, “Curtain”, there really is no need to read them in order, but, if you’re new to Christie, why not start with this one: the one that started it all.
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