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Book of the Month

Book of the Month: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

1st August 2016

Recently, there had been some strange goings on at Styles St Mary. Evelyn, constant companion to old Mrs Inglethorp, had stormed out of the house muttering something about ‘a lot of sharks.’ And with her, something indefinable had gone from the atmosphere. Her presence had spelt security; now the air seemed rife with suspicion and impending evil. A shattered coffee cup, a splash of candle grease, a bed of begonias – all Poirot required to display his now legendary powers of detection…

The Mysterious Affair at Styles was the book that introduced both Agatha Christie and her fictional sleuth Hercule Poirot to the literary world. Following a dare from her sister Madge who bet Christie couldn’t write a detective novel in which the reader would be able to correctly guess the murderer, Christie got to work on her first detective novel in 1916 at the age of 26. Once completed she sent it to a publisher – Hodder and Stoughton – who, not to her surprise, returned it. Undeterred, she sent the manuscript to another publisher. She didn’t give up on The Mysterious Affair at Styles and after receiving rejections from a few publishers, she sent it to John Lane at the Bodley Head.

A couple of years had passed until one day Agatha Christie received a letter from John Lane requesting a meeting with her. As Christie recalls in her autobiography, she had been tied up in the excitement of the war ending and her husband Archie returning, so much so that she had forgotten about The Mysterious Affair at Styles. But full of hope, she attended the meeting.

John Lane explained that there was hope for the book, but a few changes would need to be made. The original final chapter saw the dénouement take place in a court scene, which John Lane explained needed to change, and Christie accepted. Once that was decided, the matter turned to business. In the excitement of having a novel published, Christie didn’t pay too much attention to the agreement and signed enthusiastically, not considering the idea that she was to start a serious career as an author. The Mysterious Affair at Styles was finally published in the US in October 1920 and in the UK in January 1921, receiving positive reviews.

Though this may be the first published book of Miss Agatha Christie, she betrays the cunning of an old hand.
The New York Book Review

2016 marks 100 years since Agatha Christie wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles and created Hercule Poirot. Find out more about Christie’s creation of Poirot.

Did you know?

Agatha Christie made a mere £25 for The Mysterious Affair at Styles from publishers The Bodley Head.

The novel was one of the first ten books published by Penguin Books when it began in 1935.