Synopsis

Agatha Christie’s debut novel was the first to feature Hercule Poirot, her famously eccentric Belgian detective.

During The Great War,Poirot is settling in England near Styles Court, the country estate of his wealthy benefactress, the elderly Emily Inglethorp.

When Emily is poisoned and the authorities are baffled, Poirot puts his prodigious sleuthing skills to work. Suspects are plentiful, including the victim’s much younger husband, her resentful stepsons, her longtime hired companion, a young family friend working as a nurse.

In addition,  a London specialist on poisons just happens to be visiting the nearby village.

Every one has secrets they are desperate to keep, but none can outwit Poirot as he navigates the ingenious red herrings and plot twists.

Characters

Hercule Poirot

A retired successful detective from Belgium, who is in England, as he is a refugee from his own country due to the invasion by the Germans, in 1914 at the start of World War I.

david souchet as the detective
Hercule Poirot

Hastings

The narrator of the case and a friend of Poirot. Happens to be a guest at Styles Court as he is recovering from injuries gained on the western front.

Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard

The Investigating police officer and was an acquaintance of Poirot before the, events of this book.

Emily Inglethorpe (victim)

Emily’s marriage to her first husband Mr Cavendish, left her a wealthy woman due to her inheritance which also included Styles Court, now married to the much younger Alfred Inglethorp.  

Alfred Inglethorpe

Emily’s second husband who is much younger than her. Considered by the family to be a fortune hunter, one of the main suspects until Poirot finds an alibi.

John Cavendish

Emily’s eldest stepson from her first husbands previous marriage and brother of Lawrence. Chief suspect after suspicion of Alfred is removed by Poirot.

Mary Cavendish

John’s wife and also a friend of Dr Baurestein

Lawrence Cavendish

Emily’s youngest son from her first husbands previous marriage and brother of Lawrence, who had studied medicine  

Evelyn Howard

Emily’s long term companion, who tells everyone about her dislike of Alfred Inglethorp

Cynthia Murdoch


Daughter of a deceased friend of the family, who helps in the nearby local pharmacy to help with war work.

Dr Bauerstein

Well known toxicologist , who live not far from Styles.

Dorcas

Maid at Styles

Quotes

The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known as ‘The Styles Case’ has now somewhat subsided.

opening line

Instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored

“Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend.”

“Sometimes I feel sure he is as mad as a hatter and then, just as he is at his maddest, I find there is a method in his madness.”

“They tried to be too clever—and that was their undoing.”

“You know, Emily was a selfish old woman in her way. She was very generous, but she always wanted a return. She never let people forget what she had done for them – and, that way she missed love.”

“Real evidence is usually vague and unsatisfactory. It has to be examined—sifted. But here the whole thing is cut and dried. No, my friend, this evidence has been very cleverly manufactured—so cleverly that it has defeated its own ends.”

“Hasting – There are times when it is one’s duty to assert oneself.”

“The mind is confused? Is it not so? Take time, mon ami. You are agitated; you are excited—it is but natural. Presently, when we are calmer, we will arrange the facts, neatly, each in his proper place. We will examine—and reject. Those of importance we will put on one side; those of no importance, pouf! blow them away!”

“There was a moment’s stupefied silence. Japp, who was the least surprised of any of us, was the first to speak.”

About Agatha Christie

picture
Agatha Christie

Childhood and adolescence: 1890–1907

On the 15th September 1890 one of the most successful writers was born, Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller,  into a wealthy family in Torquay, Devon England.

The youngest of three children born to Frederick Alvah (“Fred”) Miller, ” and his wife Clarissa Margaret (“Clara”) Miller née Boehmer

Christie’s mother Clara was born 1854 in Dublin the farther was  Frederick Boehmer, a British Army Officer and his wife Mary Ann Boehmer née West.

Boehmer died in 1863, which left his widow to raise Clara and her brothers on a meagre income. Soon after, the fathers death, Mary’s sister Margaret West married Nathaniel Frary Miller, a US citizen, a, widowed dry goods merchant.

Helping Mary financially, they agreed to foster nine-year-old Clara, Margaret and Nathaniel had no children together, but Nathaniel had a seventeen-year-old son, Fred Miller, from his previous marriage.

Fred was born in New York City and travelled extensively after leaving his Swiss boarding school. He Married Agatha’s mother, Clara, in London 1878.Their first child, Margaret Frary (“Madge”), was born in Torquay in 1879.[2]:6[15] The second, Louis Montant (“Monty”), was born in Morristown New Jersey, in 1880, while the family were on an extended visit to the United States.

When Fred’s father died in 1869,[17] he left Clara £2,000 (approximately equivalent to £190,000 in 2019), in 1881 they used this to buy, a villa in Torquay named Ashfield.

 It was here that their third and last child, Agatha, was born in 1890. describing her childhood as “very happy”. Making friends with other girls in Torquay, noting that “one of the highlights of my existence” was her appearance with them in a youth production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeomen of the Guard, in which she played the hero, Colonel Fairfax.

According to Christie, her mother said she should not learn to read until the age of eight. However because of he interest, she was reading by age four.

Even though her sister had been sent to a boarding school, Christie was educated in her own home. This meant that Christie’s family controlled her studies.

Christie was a voracious reader from an early age. Among her earliest memories were reading children’s books by Mrs Molesworth and Edith Nesbit. When a little older, she moved on to the surreal verse of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll.As an adolescent, she enjoyed works by Anthony Hope, Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, and Alexandre Dumas. In April 1901, aged 10, she wrote her first poem, “The Cowslip”

As A child

Her father’s health had deteriorated, because of what he believed were heart problems. Fred died in November 1901 from pneumonia and chronic kidney disease.

Christie later said that her father’s death when she was eleven marked the end of her childhood.

The family’s financial situation had by this time worsened. Madge married the year after their father’s death and moved to, Cheshire.  Monty was overseas, serving in a British Army.

Christie now lived alone at Ashfield with her mother. In 1902, she began attending Miss Guyer’s Girls’ School in Torquay but found it difficult to adjust to the disciplined atmosphere.

her mother sent her to Paris, in 1905, where she was educated in a series of (boarding schools, focusing on voice training and piano playing.

 Deciding she lacked the temperament and talent, she gave up her goal of performing professionally as a concert pianist or an opera singer.

Early literary attempts, marriage, literary success: 1907–1926

When she returned home to England, Christie found her mother ailing. They decided to spend the northern winter of 1907–1908 in the warm climate of Egypt, a regular tourist destination for wealthy Britons.

They stayed for three months at a Hotel in Cairo. Christie, attended many dances and other social functions, particularly enjoying watching amateur polo matches.

They visit some ancient monuments, in Egypt, such as the Great Pyramid of Giza. However she was not interested in archaeology and Egyptology, which she developed in her later years.

Coming back to, Britain, she continued her social activities, writing and performing in amateur theatricals. Helping put on a play called The Blue Beard of Unhappiness with female friends.

After Turning 18 , Christie wrote her first short story, “The House of Beauty”, while recovering in bed from an illness. It was about 6,000 words on “madness and dreams”, a subject of fascination for her.

Around the same time, Christie began work on her first novel, Snow Upon the Desert. Writing under the pseudonym Monosyllaba, she set the book in Cairo and drew upon her recent experiences there.

The book was not published after being rejected by 6 publishers it was even rejected by the publisher that was recomended by a novalist who was also a family friend.

Meanwhile, Christie’s social activities expanded, with country house parties, horseback riding, hunting, dances, and roller skating.

She had short-lived relationships with four men and an engagement to another. In October 1912, she was introduced to Archibald “Archie” Christie at a dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford at Ugbrooke, about 12 miles (19 kilometres) from Torquay.

The son of a barrister in the Indian Civil Service, Archie was an army officer who was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in April 1913.

 The couple quickly fell in love. Three months after their first meeting, Archie proposed marriage, and Agatha accepted.[2]

With the outbreak of the war in August 1914, Archie went to France to fight. They married on Christmas Eve 1914 at Emmanuel Church, Clifton, Bristol, while Archie was on home leave. He was posted back to Britain in September 1918 as a colonel.

 Christie involved herself in the war effort as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross. From October 1914 to May 1915.

From June 1916 to September 1918, she worked 3,400 hours in the Town Hall Red Cross Hospital, Torquay, first as a nurse (unpaid) then as a dispenser at £16 (approximately equivalent to £900 in 2019) a year from 1917) after qualifying as an apothecaries’ assistant.

 Her war service ended in September 1918 when Archie was reassigned to London, and they rented a flat in St. John’s Wood.

Christie was a fan of  crime novels, Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White and The Moonstone, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories. She wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1916. It featured Hercule Poirot,

Christie settled into married life, giving birth to her only child, Rosalind Margaret Clarissa, in August 1919 at Ashfield.

Archie left the Air Force at the end of the war and began working in the financial sector at a relatively low salary. They still employed a maid.

Her second novel, The Secret Adversary (1922), featured a new detective couple Tommy and Tuppence, again published by The Bodley Head. It earned her £50 (approximately equivalent to £2,800 in 2019).

 A third novel, again featured Poirot, as did the short stories commissioned by the editor of The Sketch magazine, from 1923 it became easier to sell her work

In 1922, the Christie’s joined an around-the-world promotional tour for the British Empire Exhibition, led by Major Ernest Belcher.  This meant, leaving their daughter with Agatha’s mother and sister, traveling  to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Canada.

Returning to England, Archie resumed work in the City, and Christie continued to work hard at her writing.

After living in a series of apartments in London, they bought a house in Sunningdale, Berkshire, which they renamed Styles after the mansion in Christie’s first detective novel.

Christie’s mother died in April 1926. They had been exceptionally close, and the loss sent Christie into a deep depression.In August 1926, reports appeared in the press that Christie had gone to a village near Biarritz to recuperate from a “breakdown” caused by “overwork”.

Disappearance: 1926

Daily Herald, 15 December 1926, announcing that Christie had been found

In August 1926, Archie asked Christie for a divorce. He had fallen in love with Nancy Neele, a friend of Major Belcher. On 3 December 1926, the pair quarrelled after Archie announced his plan to spend the weekend with friends.

Unaccompanied by his wife. Late that evening, Christie disappeared from their home. The following morning, her car, a Morris Cowley, was discovered at Newlands Corner, parked above a chalk quarry with an expired driving licence and clothes inside.

The disappearance quickly became a news story, as the press sought to satisfy their readers’ “hunger for sensation, disaster, and scandal”

William Joynson-Hicks, The Home Secretary pressured police, and a newspaper offered a £100 reward (approximately equivalent to £6,000 in 2019).

Over a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers, and several aeroplanes searched the rural landscape. Conan Doyle gave a spirit medium one of Christie’s gloves to find her.

News paper when Christie was found

Christie’s disappearance was featured on the front page of The New York Times. Despite the extensive manhunt, she was not found for another ten days. 

On 14 December 1926, she was located at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel Harrogate, Yorkshire, registered as Mrs Tressa Neele (the surname of her husband’s lover) from Capetown South Africa.

The next day, Christie left for her sister’s residence at Abney Hall, Cheadle, where she was sequestered “in guarded hall, gates locked, telephone cut off, and callers turned away”

Christie’s autobiography makes no reference to the disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from “an unquestionable genuine loss of memory”,yet opinion remains divided over the reason for her disappearance.

Some, including her biographer Morgan, believe she disappeared during a fugue state. While the author Jared Cade concluded that Christie planned the event to embarrass her husband,  but did not anticipate the resulting public melodrama.

 Christie biographer Laura Thompson provides an alternative view that Christie disappeared during a nervous breakdown, conscious of her actions but not in emotional control of herself.

The public at the time thought it was publicity stunt or an attempt to frame her husband for murder.

Second marriage and later life: 1927–1976

In January 1927, Christie, looking, sailed with her daughter and secretary to Las Palmas, Canary Islands, to “complete her convalescence”, not returning for 3 months. 

Petitioning for divorce, Christie was granted a decree nisi against her husband 1928, which was made absolute in October 1928.

Archie married Nancy Neele a week later. Christie retained custody of their daughter, Rosalind, and kept the Christie surname for her writing.

“So, after illness, came sorrow, despair and heartbreak. There is no need to dwell on it.”

In autobiography

In 1928 Christie left England and took the (Simplon) Orient Express to Istanbul and then to Iraq, she became friends with archaeologist Leonard Woolley and his wife, who invited her to return to their dig in February 1930.

On that second trip, she met an archaeologist, thirteen years her junior, Max Mallowan. In a 1977 interview, Mallowan recounted his first meeting with Christie, when he took her and a group of tourists on a tour of his expedition site in Iraq.

Christie and Mallowan married i in September 1930. Their marriage lasted until Christie’s death in 1976. Accompanying Mallowan on his archaeological expeditions, and her travels with him contributed background to several of her novels set in the Middle East.

Other novels (such as Peril At End House) were set in and around Torquay, where she was raised. Drawing on her experience of international train travel when writing her 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express.Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, the southern terminus of the railway, claims the book was written there and maintains Christie’s room as a memorial to the author.

Christie and Mallowan lived in Chelsea, first in Cresswell Place and later in Sheffield Terrace.

In 1934, they bought Winterbrook House in Winterbrook, a hamlet near Wallingford. This was their main residence for the rest of their lives and the place where Christie did much of her writing.

Living a quiet life Christie  in Wallingford; from 1951 to 1976 she served as president of the local amateur dramatic society.

Blue plaque, 58 Sheffield Terrace, Holland Park, London

The couple acquired the Greenway Estate in Devon as a summer residence in 1938, which was given to the National Trust in 2000. Christie frequently stayed at Abney Hall, Cheshire, which was owned by her brother-in-law, James Watts,

During the Second World War, Christie worked in the pharmacy at University College Hospital (UCH), London, where she updated her knowledge of poisons.

Her later novel The Pale Horse was based on a suggestion from Harold Davis, the chief pharmacist at UCH. In 1977, a thallium poisoning case was solved by British medical personnel who had read Christie’s book and recognised the symptoms she described.

The British intelligence agency MI5 investigated Christie after a character called Major Bletchley appeared in her 1941 thriller N or M?, which was about a hunt for a pair of deadly fifth columnists in wartime England.

MI5 was concerned that Christie had a spy in Britain’s top-secret code breaking centre, Bletchley Park. The agency’s fears were allayed when Christie told her friend, the code breaker Dilly Knox,

“I was stuck there on my way by train from Oxford to London and took revenge by giving the name to one of my least lovable characters.”

Christie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1950. In honour of her many literary works, Christie was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1956 New Year Honours..

In the 1971 New Year Honours, she was promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), three years after her husband had been knighted for his archaeological work. After her husband’s knighthood, Christie could also be Lady Mallowan.

From 1971 to 1974, Christie’s health began to fail, but she continued to write. Her last novel was Postern of Fate in 1973. By textual analysis, Canadian researchers suggested in 2009 that Christie may have begun to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

Death and burial

Grave stone

Christie died peacefully on 12 January 1976 at age 85 from natural causes at home at Winterbrook House.

 When her death was announced, two West End theatres – the St. Martin’s, where The Mousetrap was playing, and the Savoy, which was home to a revival of Murder at the Vicarage – dimmed their outside lights in her honour.

She was buried in the nearby churchyard of St Mary’s, Cholsey, in a plot she had chosen with her husband ten years before.

The simple funeral service was attended by about 20 newspaper and TV reporters, some having travelled from as far away as South America.

Thirty wreaths adorned Christie’s grave including one from the cast of her long-running play The Mousetrap and one sent “on behalf of the multitude of grateful readers” by the Ulverscroft Large Print Book Publishers.

Films

Agatha Christie’s Poirot : The Mysterious Affair At Styles (David Suchet) [DVD]

Bibliography

 

Books

TitlePublication DateBuy From Amazon
The Mysterious Affair at Styles1920
The Murder on the Links1923
Poirot Investigates1924
The Muder of Roger Ackroyd1926
The Big Four1927
The Mystery of the Blue Train1928
Black Coffee (1930 play-novel adopted from play published 1998)1930/1998
Peril at End House1932
Lord Edgeware Dies 1933
Mourder on the Orient Express1934
Three Act Tragedy1935
Death In the Clouds1935
The A.B.C. Murdwers1936
Murder in Mesopotamia1936
Cards on the Table1936
Dumb Waitress1937
Death on the Nile1937
Murder in the Mews1937
Appointment with Death1938
Hercule’s Poirot’s Christmas1938
The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories1939
Sad Cypress1940
)ne, Two, Buckle My Shoe1940
Evil Under the Sun1941
Five Little Pigs1942
The Hollow1946
The Labours of Hercules1947
The Witness fir the Prosecution and Other Stories1948
Taken at the Flood1948
Three Blind Mice and Other Stories1951
The Under Dog and Other Stories1951
Mrs Mcginty’s Dead1952
After the Funeral1953
Hickory Dickory Dock1955
Dead Man’s Folloy1956
Cat Among the Pigeons1959
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding1960
Double Sin and other Stories1961
The Clocks1963
Third Girl1966
Hallowe’en Party1969
Elephants can Remember1972
Poirot’s Early Cases1974
Curtain (Written 1940)1975
Problem at Pollensa Bay and Othe Stories1991
The Harlequin Tea Set1997
While the Light Lasts and Other Stories1997
books

Continuations not by Christie

Title Authorpublished
The Monogram MurdersSophie Hannah2014
Closed CasketSophie Hannah2016
The Mystery of Three QuartersSophie Hannah2018
The Killings at Kingfisher HillSophie Hannah2020
Poirot books not Written by Christie
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