Years ago, an English spinster was found murdered in a hotel called Savoy in Mussoorie, India. The British were ruling the country then. There was little information on whether the murder case was solved. But what was known that this case later provided a backdrop for a writer in Britain to base her first crime novel upon.
The book was rejected six times. But when it eventually saw the light of the day, it made the author an undisputed name in the genre of crime writing and enabled her to produce several other such works which were outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.
The author was none other than Agatha Christie and the book was “ The Mysterious affair at Styles.”
If Madge, Agatha Christie’s elder sister had not challenged her to write a detective fiction, probably, her debut novel “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” would not have happened.
This book introduced the world-famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who had absolute faith in his “ his little grey cells” to millions of her fans across the globe.
Hercule Poirot had just retired from the Belgian Police and was settling down at Styles St Mary. It was Emily Cavendish, the mistress of Style court that lay a mile the other side of Styles, who had helped him to start his life afresh. But to his utter dismay, Cavendish, who had recently become Emily Inglethorp as she had married Alfred Inglethorp lost her life in her boudoir.
Captain Arthur Hastings, who was later to become the companion of Poirot had been there in Styles as he was invited by his friend John Cavendish, one of the stepsons of Emily Inglethorp. Hastings had appeared in eight other Poirot novels. Being injured at the war front, he was recuperating at Styles and was the narrator of the story.
Though, autocratic in nature Inglethorp had taken care of her stepsons’ - John and Lawrence need and treated them as her own sons. But things started going awry when she married Alfred Inglethorp who was much younger to her. And one fine morning, Emily Cavendish dies miserably in front of her sons, daughter in law Mary Cavendish and Hastings and also Dr. Bauerstein.
If you ask me who is the real villain of the story, I would say Strychnine - a highly toxic, colourless pesticide. Emily Cavendish was poisoned with strychnine. As Poirot had found a partly burnt paper from her boudoir, it became obvious to him that she had written a will and somebody had tried to burn it.
Was she poisoned because of that will?
It’s an indisputable fact that her experience in a hospital dispensary during first world war had helped her to gain immense knowledge of poisons. And she had skillfully used her knowledge in many of her books, especially, in “ The Mysterious Affairs at Styles”
Kathryn Harkup, a British chemist, and author who was in India in 2015 to participate in a crime writer's festival said " Many of Agatha Christie's fans know how she deftly used her knowledge of poison in her works. But what is less known is that her toxic arsenal – comprising over 30 compounds – included many Indian plants."
Christie is well known for her ‘ famous twists’ in the plots. When the reader feels that she/he is almost near the culprit, she twists the entire plot. Remember her famous twist in “ The Murder on the Orient Express’. You can see the streak of that twist in her first book also.
As he says in this book “ I find there’s a method in his madness” after Styles story, I feel that I should also alter my method of reading Christie. I mean I should delve more deeply into her plots and characters.