Spoiler Warning – The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie

spoiler-warning

A podcast episode a couple of months short of 100 years in the making, we are here today to discuss The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie.

To celebrate a century since the start of detective fiction’s Golden Age — no, Trent’s Last Case (1913), you stay out of this — myself, Moira from Clothes in Books, and everyone’s second-favourite Christie nerd Brad from AhSweetMysteryBlog are here to talk about Agatha Christie’s debut, her impact on the detective fiction genre, and her enduring appeal.

There will, of course, be spoilers, so do please ensure you’ve read the book before listening if you wish to experience it as intended, but those spoilers stop at Styles alone.  Several other Christie books are mentioned, but I’ve ensured that nothing even close to a spoiler makes its way in — I’d provide you with a list of titles, but there’s really no point.  The spoilers start about 20 minutes in, and are announced, so you could always listen to the first bit and then come back later when you’ve read the book if you liked.

This isn’t technically an episode of my lockdown podcast In GAD We Trust, but since it is still a podcast I’ve ensured it will show up in your feed if you follow that on iTunes or Spotify.  You are, as ever, also free to open this file in your browser by clicking here, or to listen below.

Thanks to Moira and Brad for taking the time to record this, and I hope it provides some entertainment for the rest of you.

Mysterious Affairs at Styleses

Next week…even more podcast!  Back to In GAD We Trust, and the first of a loosely-linked series of episodes for August.

A bientot!

57 thoughts on “Spoiler Warning – The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie

  1. Awww it was so wonderful listening to you three! Also a little bit bittersweet, as it reminds me about the conference which had to be cancelled. Not got anything remotely intelligent to say about this book, especially since your combined knowledge of the text is awe-inspiring! I wish I was that observant when I was reading a book.
    If you were ever to do a version of Mastermind on your podcast I think it would be interesting to see Moira and Brad battling it out over the Christie questions. Just impressed with how many times they’ve read Christie’s book.

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  2. Great to hear you all! Loved Brad’s riposte at about 1 hour 13 – earning 10 bonus points and sticking the knife in at the same time.

    In terms of the gathering of the suspects for the final reveal, pointing the finger at each in turn before revealing the guilty party, probably Christie was the first to do it. This got me thinking about something I had noticed during my reading but hadn’t looked into properly but I have done so now. Although it is something so associated with Christie – possibly because it is used in Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile which are more in the general consciousness because of the film versions – the gathering of all/most of the suspects in order to reveal the murderer is only done in 14 of 25 Poirot’s that I have re-read so far and isn’t used after Styles until Poirot novel number six.

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    • It’s always the people who haven’t read Crofts that seem to have the strongest opposition to him…

      Interesting point about the gathering of the suspects, but it is kinda used in Poirot #4, right? He does gather them all and tell them…something. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to observe that accepted wisdom isn’t correct.

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      • I had excluded HP4 because it isn’t quite the same. I’m in the pro-Crofts camp but I can understand why others aren’t, but you need to have a read a couple before you can criticise, and even then you need to criticise based on what the author is trying to do rather than what you want them to do.

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    • We talked for another hour, John: twenty minutes of that were spoilers for other books, which JJ refused to allow! 😦 The other forty minutes were of JJ reciting “The Cask, by Freeman Wills Croft” over and over and over again. He simply had to be put down!

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  3. Thanks for a highly enjoyable discussion. The comment about cousins being assumed to look like each other reminded me that there’s a particularly notable example of that in Freeman’s “For The Defence, Dr. Thorndyke” (which is still an entertaining read if you like inverted mysteries).

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    • Oh, yes, Christie was far from the only one who believe this — and far from the only one who championed the transformative power of a false beard or tinted eyeglasses 🙂

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  4. Enjoyed this podcast immensely— significantly more than I enjoy the book itself. Congrats to all three of you.

    I am wary to posit The Mysterious Affair at Styles as the beginning of the Golden Age, other than it being the first of an author who turned out to be very important to the genre, and was immediately followed by a high density of similar works. Other than that aspect, what really makes it more suitable to the designation than, say, The Mystery of the Yellow Room? At any rate, I find that delineating era and genre boundaries is always a messy thing.
    !!!!!!!!SPOILERS!!!!!!

    I have no idea whether Styles was the first novel to include the assembly-of-suspects denouement (as we know, to prove that such a thing was the first requires exhaustive knowledge, whereas to prove that something WASN’T requires only a single counter example). However, I’m less interested in whether it was the first to include that element— as I consider that a mere external plot convention— as I am to know whether it was the first to offer the solution of the Most Likely Suspect (or any level of what I call “Dismissal via Overt Acknowledgment”). As we know that the basic “revolutionary” solutions to several of Christie’s most famous novels (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Peril at End House [and thus The Mirror Crack’d and others],The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas [and thus The Mousetrap], and Crooked House) had already been introduced by other authors before Christie (even if she brought them to their most brilliant iteration in most cases), it would be interesting to find out if she was indeed the innovator in this particular case (the psychological principle behind this device— what I refer to as the Deception Expectation Principle [i.e. in a genre in which an effort to surprise the reader with previously unconsidered possibilities is expected, ideas that are openly and overtly offered will be less compelling and more easily dismissed than those which are obscured or apparently hidden]— had already been employed at least as early as The Purloined Letter, but it would be interesting to know whether Christie was the first to apply it to the matter of culprit identity… it’s an important idea).

    I agree on all the other points all three of you made regarding the strengths and weaknesses of this novel. I still think Jim overstates the vagueness of the description of the clipped paper in The Wrong Shape (it’s really more specifically described than you suggest, Jim), but I’ll agree that Christie did a much better job with her clue description. And much as I do love Death on the Nile, I’ll admit that its spy plot is arguably as irrelevant as the one in Styles (if Nile has a flaw, it is an over abundance of unnecessary sub-plotting). But I would say that Christie’s handling of physical disguise did improve over the years. Though I wouldn’t be entirely confident of it working, disguise as a waiter or airline attendant really could work (people DON’T pay attention to the “help” and it’s really far more of a psychological congruity inconspicuousness thing than any kind of class snobbery), but I’d be damned if a woman in a beard could pick up a prescription from a pharmacist, even if he were distracted and her handwriting was perfect.

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    • The principle of “most likely suspect” was — arguably — present in so much pre-GAD Victorian and Edwardian sensation fiction where there is essentially only one person who can be the villain. There’s the argument that It’s not quite the same thing, because here we have the legitimate attempts at proving and then disproving his guilty for the reader, but so many of those stories seem to hinge on the Shocking Revelation that the powerful landowner is also the one who’s been pulling the strings behind the scenes…and if the characters themselves were supposed to be shocked by this, it’s at least partially implied that the reader should have been, too, right?

      I suppose this came to mind when you correctly asserted how difficult it is to establish what the *first* example of any literary trick is. It was the one difficulty I had when I first started reading Holmes — it was always so obvious who the culprit was until, perhaps, The Hound of the Baskervilles…but I can’t sufficiently recall the precise mechanics of suspicion in that book to be able to compare them at present.

      And, yes, I knew as soon as I was making that example of ‘The Wrong Shape’ that you’d call me out on it, Scott 🙂 Had I finished the book with more time before recording I would have actually looked up chapter and verse in the Chesterton to compare, but instead I winged it and figured you’d call me to account…

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      • Yes, Jim, by Most Likely Suspect I did not mean merely that an openly despicable character is guilty of foul deeds, but rather the “reverse psychology” ploy by which an author places a great deal of overt suspicion upon a character, knowing that— due to the reader’s knowledge of the aims and devices of the genre— that overt suspicion will actually work toward exonerating that character in thr reader’s mind. That is, employing the reader’s expectation of deception as a tool to deceive him. I was wondering if Christie might be the first to employ that device in regard to culprit identity.

        As for “The Wrong Shape,” I’m not suffering that the clueing is thorough, detailed, or even that you should consider it sufficient, only that I think it’s significantly greater than you seem to suggest.

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    • In her Autobiography, Christie relates the inspiration for this, her first book, in a detailed story that has a strong whiff of the apocryphal about it. Still, she does say that, in the artistic sense, she preferred straightforward murders to “unusual” ones, and her career is marked by that very thing: once you whittle away the florid trappings, you have a simple crime in front of you. She does talk a lot about creating a character upon whom she could heap tons of suspicion, from the sinister beard to possessing the strongest motive – and then making it look like he simply could not have done it.

      Christie doesn’t take credit for being the first to do this. I think she remains customarily modest about her achievements throughout. But then, she also doesn’t let us know whether she read Gwen Bristow or Marjory Allingham or Ellery Queen before she adapted their solutions into books that became a lot more famous. I would venture to say that Christie’s version was usually an improvement on the idea.

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    • Speaking of identity, which the beard plays some kind of role along with age, if you consider the revealed murderer in Murder In Mesopotamia . . . . . .

      SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!! . . . . . . . . . . . SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      . . . . and how the victim couldn’t identify that her second husband was her first husband, it’s quite the problem to many fans (!!) and throughout the book, Poirot — or I should say Agatha Christie — convince us the readers that such a ploy could’ve been the wool pulled over Louise Leidner’s eyes. I’m not saying that it COULD NEVER happen for such weird things DO happen in this crazy world of ours, BUT (and a BIG ONE!) such a case would probably be founded in the stories of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” If it WERE to happen, I would say it would be a chance of 1 in a million . . . ok, maybe a billion, but such a thing wouldn’t happen every day!

      To piggyback on what you said Scott about a woman donning a beard while picking up a prescription from the pharmacist, hell, in the case of The Mysterious Affair At Styles, I recalled Evelyn was rather mannish and pretty rough looking so maybe she could easily pull it off but IF she were a competent actress on the stage (like Irene Adler in A Scandal In Bohemia) or something, would you find it more plausible — just a tiny bit?

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      • Nah, having lived my life in the theatre, I feel that professional actors are generally not all that much better as actors than non-actors (there’s a lot of acting that goes on in life outside of theatres) except in their willingness to go through all the crap actors have to go through to make a living (rejection, auditions, rehearsals, low pay, etc…).

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      • Hell, if you want to mention Ripley (yes, it’s a different Ripley…), have you read Patricia Highsmith’s books about that character? Never before has a haircut and a pair of glasses been so transformative… 🙂

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      • Murder in Mesopotamia: Christie based the Leidners on Leonard and Katherine Woolley, who did not physically consummate their marriage. I presume the same was true in the case of the lovely Louise; that makes the deception less improbable.

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  5. Brad, I quite agree that Christie was most modest about such things, and rarely made claims of innovation… it’s her sometimes undiscerning fans who have inaccurately made these claims for her (they’re not as bad as many of the rabid, mindless Suchet fanatics, but still…). And I also not only agree that she usually improved upon these ideas, but I believe that this improvement is a greater achievement than innovation (as I told you, I think that if you brought a group of reasonably intelligent people together and asked them to propose “out of the box” whodunit solutions, they’d come up with a good deal of those “high concept” twists within an hour, and you told me that your experience with high schoolers [let alone professional writers] reinforces this notion).

    The only instance I can think of where I don’t consider her version is superior is The ABC Murders, which I find surprisingly less impressively clued than Chesterton’s much shorter The Sign of the Broken Sword. But even there, I don’t think she did too badly (and her use of the basic device was certainly different enough to not in any way seem derivative).

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    • Beautifully said, Scott! Anyone can come up with clever and fantastic whodunit solutions; it’s been done many times and most often not perfectly executed, but it’s taking them and executing it onto the page, crafting it in such a way that majorly improves upon the original concept! I don’t recall any mystery novel before “And Then There Were None” mentioned in modern mainstream society (whether directly or indirectly) where a group of characters is gathered, bumped off one-by-one. Any other incarnation of this idea, including the original itself, is blown out of the water, somewhere in the black hole of obscurity! And that’s quite an achievement! Originality and innovation don’t mean much in the long run (not all the time), certainly not in the case of Agatha Christie!

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      • Yes— there are no doubt more than a few fans of “The Invisible Host”— and the 1934 film version (The 9th Guest) is awfully fun— but neither one is known world-round by millions. And they don’t deserve to be. Christie took an interest gimmick and on e again turned it into a masterpiece.

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      • I think I should clarify— I don’t really agree that anyone can come up with clever and fantastic whodunnit solutions; rather, I think that (nearly) anyone can come up with “outside the box,” high concepts (narrator as killer, detective as killer, victim as killer, apparent target as killer, ingenue as killer, child as killer, natural death mistaken for murder, etc…). But there’s a great distance between proposing these concepts (all of which had been used before Christie) and constructing a brilliant plot around them. Christie claimed that Lord Mountbatten proposed the Ackroyd idea to her, but the accolades rightly go to her, not him, for her brilliant (and complex) treatment of it.

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        • Yes, as someone who has come up with three (or maybe four!) impossible crime solutions that I believe to be original, I fully support the championing of the writing being far more laudatory than the imagining.

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          • Well, I’m not suggesting that innovation is not impressive. I’m wowed by Christie’s basic idea for After the Funeral, for instance (I don’t know of anyone else who tried that before). But let’s face it, the basic twist of Ackroyd had not already been used a couple of times (at least) before Christie got to it, it had probably been entertained as a possibility by hundreds if not thousands by that time The fact that it had been used less than a handful of times by 1926 is an indication of how difficult an idea it would be to pull off well and unobjectionably. And Christie did it, not only by deceiving only thru omission, but also (and I find this more impressive) providing a motivational justification for the narrator’s Hoodwinking of the reader. It’s stunning.

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            • I know that Van Dine’s Rules (1928) and those of Father Knox (1929) were written with at least some sense of fun, but the fact that both men included rules that address Christie’s success here suggests to me that they felt threatened by her success. Anthony Berkeley had included a variation on the same thing a year before Christie, and I know there’s a Scandinavian (?) mystery novel – I think Kate, among others has reviewed it – that had the same trick. Maybe it was all too much for Knox and Van Dine, neither one of whom ever created an equally famous title, to be usurped by a mere woman, but maybe there had been too many of these, and it stuck in their craws as much as their tongues were firmly planted in their cheeks.

              I also find it interesting that neither man included a rule about disguises. Certainly disguises pack a better punch in literature than they do in film or onstage (although the stage version of Sleuth blew my mind!) We could go on and on with Christie’s use of disguise, arguing whether any of them could actually work. Some of them are so brilliantly rendered, by Christie and others, that I have no problem with their credibility. Others might work (a mentally ill, drugged woman might not recognize that her stepmother is also her roommate), but the book’s plot is too weak for me to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

              Rather than take up JJ’s valuable space, I think I’m going to put together a spoiler-filled post on my blog about disguise and then we can argue about each example to our heart’s content. LRI recently published a doozy!

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        • I understand the difficulty with finding the time/setting to listen to them — I’ve struggled to adapt to listening to them in the past, too, and have had to make a concerted effort, mainly on account of recording one myself, to check I was doing the content correctly! And even then, I only listen to about three…

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          • I’ve heard the podcast; I enjoyed your enthusiastic, insightful discussion of Styles – particularly your reactions to the book’s logical flaws. Sounds like the three of you had a lot of fun.

            A few points:

            What about A.E.W. Mason? At the Villa Rose (1910) surely influenced Christie; it features a brilliant French detective (the great Hanaud), naturalistic characterization, attention to psychology, clues in dialogue as well as material clues, and fair-play deduction. (John Dickson Carr admired Mason; The House of the Arrow, fifteen years later, is the prototype for JDC’s mid-1940s works.)

            The American detective story already had the Golden Age detective story in embryo; Anna Katharine Green’s books have dated rather badly, and many of Carolyn Wells’s are rather silly, but the format is there twenty or thirty years before the Golden Age began in Britain: a country house of suspects, romantic complications, least likely suspect, and (yes!) the parlour reveal. Christie (half-American, don’t forget!) read many of these growing up, as Mike Grost has pointed out.

            The device of reproducing physical clues (letters, handwriting, charred fragments of wills) did not originate with Christie. Both Green and Conan Doyle used it.

            Isn’t the ferret-faced Japp firmly in the Lestrade mould (rather than French)?

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            • This is all great stuff, Nick! I have never professed myself a scholar of pre-GAD, but I’m sure you are correct on every count. Once again, as Scott stated above, Christie didn’t so much originate as innovate.

              I’ve watched a lot of 1930’s mystery films, and they strike me as being in the Wells and Green mold in they hew to formula in the extreme. William K. Everson goes into this in some detail in his book The Detective in Film, where he details certain tropes, even certain actors, who made it quite easy to pick out the murderer. Christie stretched the boundaries from the start: although only three of the nine books she wrote in the 1920’s were straight-on whodunnits (four, if you count Blue Train), the solutions and clue trails are completely different in each one. You have a guilty “most likely” suspect, a guilty person who is perhaps the suspect most likely to engender sympathy in the reader, and a killer who is, arguably, not even part of the suspect list. And in each case, Christie finds various ways to manipulate the reader into misinterpreting the situation, even to the point of literally misreading the text.

              By the time we’ve read through the fifteen “standard” whodunnits of the 30’s, she has certainly revisited old tricks, but she quickly figured out how to make them fresh. Plus, she was one of the few long-term writers I know who was able to adapt to the changing times by infusing her late-30’s through 50’s mysteries with greater emotional resonance without sacrificing the puzzle. (Queen’s Wrightsville books are wonderful and emotionally complex, but they all but eliminate the complexity of the puzzle found in the 30’s. And then there’s Carr, who only rarely included an emotional punch in his books. (I can’t speak for the historical mysteries, which I haven’t read, but I know they are less puzzle and more novel.) Christianna Brand could provide both puzzle and emotion, but her mystery output is small.

              Okay, now I’m rambling! Good night! And thank you for laying aside your tendency to avoid podcasts and listening. I talked too much, and I sound so nasal, but I had an incredible time and would do this weekly if JJ would let me! 😉

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            • Correct on every count… You make me sound like Van Helsing!

              But as you and Scott say, Christie did everything extremely well. She may not have originated some of the ideas – and many of them, as you three point out, are exceptionally difficult to do, let alone do well – but her use of them feels *definitive*. (Of course, most of us encounter these ideas in Christie first.) And, as you say, she struck a near-perfect balance between plot/detection and characterization; only, I think, Nicholas Blake and Christianna Brand – both following in Christie’s wake – were as successful.

              I’ve read two of the pre-Christie novels where the narrator committed the murder; they’re rather slapdash. One is really a thriller; in the other, the villain is the sleuth’s long-term friend (rather like Dr. Watson). Christie’s use of it is beautiful; it’s naturalistic and grounded in richly observed village life; the narrator has a reason to be there, other than being ‘the Narrator’.

              And, as you three pointed out, even when she repeats an idea, she uses it differently each time. End House is not Little Paddocks. The look of frozen …what…? … (as you guys say) indicates a victim in one, a murderer in another.

              The point raised about mothers in Christie is also intriguing; I don’t think I’d quite realized how negative most of them are. Some are tyrants (notably the appalling Mrs. Boynton); several are fake (mid-1940s, early 1950s); some are self-obsessed (the actress in Crooked House); others don’t love their children (Mrs. Symmington, Caroline Crale to some degree); or love them too much (late 1930s). And then there’s Salome Otterbourne.

              Off the top of my head, perhaps the two most sympathetic are Judith Butler and Mrs. Upjohn, a ‘hands-off’ mother who heads off to the wilds of Anatolia and lets her daughter raise herself. (Bess Sedgwick, I suppose, is a more dangerous version.) Mme Renault also earns Poirot’s admiration; so does Mrs. Allerton. (Is she really possessive, or is that the monstrosity in the sour Suchet adaptation?)

              And have you read Absent in the Spring, her Mary Westmacott novel? It’s one of the half-dozen best books she wrote under any name. A brilliant portrait of a ‘model’ wife and mother there.

              Christie’s stretching of the boundaries was too much for some of her Twenties and early Thirties critics; they wondered if she was a thriller writer rather than a respectable detective story writer. Not enough ratiocination, and those SURPRISES! at the end.

              I hope you guys do make it a weekly
              – or at least a more regular – event.

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            • I’m like Brad, in that my American pre-GAD is rather ropey. And Mason is on my TBR — I believe it was you, Nick, who recommended The House of the Arrow to me — so I’ll intend to have something informed to say about this in a year or so.

              Man, I love these rabbit holes. There’s always more to learn, always more to read…the possibilities that genre fiction raises are so tantalising.

              I was also completely unaware that Christie was half-American, so thanks for that, too. I’m tremendously glad that you broke your podcasting duck to bring all this to my attention, Nick — hugely appreciated.

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            • Oh, do read Mason sooner than next year! (If you can tear yourself away from Crofts.) You’ll like him; *trust me*.

              Yes, Christie’s father was American. Dodd Mead made it a selling point; they marketed her as an American living in Britain.

              I must read another detective story soon. I’ve spent the last month reading a 3200 page fantasy novel. Enjoyable but exhausting. The tightness of detective fiction is refreshing!

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            • Of course the mother / child relationship is the most primal. (Hence three of the most affecting Greek tragedies are about perversion of this relationship: Oedipus Rex; Elektra; and the Bacchae.) Hardly surprising that Christie, a natural psychologist, should investigate it in so many guises.

              Is there though an instance of mother killing child or vice versa in Christie? I can’t recall any. Fathers on several occasions, ditto adoptive mothers.

              And I overlooked a 1950s novel in which maternal love blinds a character to the evil of their child, and makes them an accessory after the fact.

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            • There is one definite example of a mother who kills her child and one that is more . . . complicated. I always assume everyone has read every Christie because I have (it’s the dash of Renfield in me!)

              Since I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t them but can’t help talking about them anyway, I have resorted to that silly ROT-13 code:

              Obgu rknzcyrf ner sebz yngr va Puevfgvr’f pnerre, naq gurl’er obgu engure njshy. Svefg pbzrf Ol gur Cevpxvat bs Zl Guhzof, jurer gur xvyyre tbrf znq nsgre nobegvat ure puvyq naq orpbzrf n ibenpvbhf puvyq xvyyre nf n erfhyg. Nf V nz abg njner bs Puevfgvr’f bcvavbaf ba nobegvba, V qba’g xabj vs guvf jnf n zrer punenpgre genvg be n abg-fb-fhogyr ceb-yvsr fgnaqf. Gura, va Ryrcunagf Pna Erzrzore, gur penml gjva fvfgre qebjaf ure bja onol, juvpu gevttref n qrfver gb xvyy bgure puvyqera. Boivbhfyl, obgu bs gurfr puvyq-xvyyvat zbguref ner vafnar, juvpu znl or gur bayl fgngr bs zvaq va juvpu n cnerag pbhyq xvyy gurve bja puvyq, nppbeqvat gb Puevfgvr.

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            • “Isn’t the ferret-faced Japp firmly in the Lestrade mould (rather than French)?”

              At least in Styles he isn’t. Not only are Poirot and Japp already old friends in Styles, but Japp also believes him from the beginning and doesn’t want to arrest one of the suspects, because Poirot tells him not to do it. It is Japp’s superior who is aiming for an arrest and Japp’s hands are bound.

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  6. I don’t think Dr Bauerstein actually is Polish. Poirot says he is German by birth after his spying is revealed. Could be from a Polish Jewish family in Germany in theory, but I take it his claim of Polish ancestry is just a ruse to hide avoid suspiscion on account of being German.

    I think there was an antisemitic idea that Jews were naturally pro-German and Christie could be seen as playing into that, thought not in the most offensive way possible. (Unless modern editions have been edited to remove something offensive.)

    As a famous toxicologist one would think he could infilitrate the British production of poison gas, or get his hands on the British countermeasures against German gas, and that this would be more productive than spending time in a small village.

    On a different note, the book is supposed to be Hasting’s writeup for general publication, at the request of the Cavendishes. Hasting might not mind that he comes across as a gigantic fool, but I wonder what his friends think of their private affairs being aired or what John will say when he reads of Hasting’s attempt to hit on his wife.

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    • I love the last paragraph of your comment, Johan! I suppose Hastings is taking the role of Watson a little further. Watson wrote his stories to laud the greatness of his friend Holmes, yet Holmes often denigrated Watson’s murky powers of observation and even dismissed the stories. Still, I don’t that Watson ever came off as badly as Hastings does here – even worse so if Hastings himself doesn’t realize how badly he’s portraying himself!

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      • What’s interesting is that Roger Ackroyd, the one book whose narrative structure was most greatly contentious, is the one Christie first-person narrative that is written in such a way that it perfectly matches the ostensible justification for its writing. As an intended account of one of Poirot’s failures, Sheppard’s manuscript is fully justified in its deception by omission, and the fact that clues leading to the truth are left in is also consistent, as he may have reveled in his unrecognized cleverness (perhaps he would even have considered leaving another confessional document to be opened after his own much-later death, gloating about his brilliance).

        But what excuse does Hastings have of writing his accounts of Poirots cases as “mysteries”? Sure, he might have written events in chronological order, but what would’ve logically kept him from writing on page two: “We were met at the station by Mr. Rossiter, a tall, affable young man whose jovial air gave no indication of the ruthless wife-murderer we later learned him to be”?

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    • Hasting might not mind that he comes across as a gigantic fool, but I wonder what his friends think of their private affairs being aired or what John will say when he reads of Hasting’s attempt to hit on his wife.

      I cannot believe none of us thought of this — holy cow, you’re so on the money here! The reminds me of a criticism I read somewhere about the structuring of the narratives of GAD, in that they’re usually set retrospectively to the crimes and so the most sensible thing would be for our narrators to start from the perspective of “You wouldn’t think from first meeting X that they’d turn out to be responsible for several violent deaths…” — all part of the fun, of course, but it really pulls you up when it’s brought to your attention like this!

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  7. I strongly suggest that if this podcast is to continue that a future episode discuss early American mysteries which are very much overlooked by so many of the bloggers. The Library of Congress Crime Classics new imprint series will soon be introducing the forgotten American detective story writer Rodrigues Ottolengui to a 21st audience and in preparation for that new edition I will be reviewing two of his novels in addition to the story collection which will released in Feb 2021. As much as I’ve wanted to highlight innovative writers from the pulps whose novels were later released in book format and were bestsellers in their time like Isabel Ostrander and Herman Landon I’ve really only discussed Carolyn Wells among the pre-1920 American mystery writers. The most popular Wells post on my blog is the one in which ridicule her poorer books, but she wrote some very good books in her early career one rather inventive mystery I finally wrote up last year. Thanks to Nick for his wide ranging reading of the genre and clearing up the “parlor reveal” with all suspects present as being very much a convention of American detective novels of the late 19th and early 20th century long before publication of …Styles. Maybe you could do a podcast on early American writers (three now being reprinted in the Library of Congress imprint series and so easily available) with Nick and you and me. But you’d need to read up, JJ! :^)

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    • I am developing a quite serious interest in pre-GAD mystery fiction — I’m hoping in time to have enough awareness to do a half-decent sweep of the progenitors mainly because they make such fascinating reading. A UK/US comparison would be wonderful — yourself and Nick unquestionably have a far better awareness, I wouldn’t even pretend to hope to keep up. Maybe I can come at it from the UK side, and you guys could simply fill in my ignorance along the way 🙂

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