Yesterday’s excitement about Sunanda Pushkar had me on the search for a good mystery novel to read. I wanted to read something I had never touched before and therefore zeroed in on Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’. This was Poirot’s first mystery and having dipped into several of his subsequent ones, I was pretty excited to have a go at this one. I bought it to my Kindle and commenced reading it last night itself, almost finishing before I went to bed.
I think there is a problem when you read the first in a series after having had a taste of some of the later ones. As a writer progresses with a character, I think not only the writing improves but the character also is refined. Therefore, I formed an impression of Hercule Poirot in the Styles mystery which was different from the one I got reading some of his later efforts. Like a sportsperson or a movie actor who makes his debut, Poirot appears a bit jittery in this one, much to my astonishment. To my mind, he was making far more mistakes than he usually makes. In fact, he rarely makes mistakes! I had to remind myself several times that this was his debut and there were bound to be some nerves after all. It felt like seeing Sachin Tendulkar face Waqar Younis in 1989 after having watched him hook Shoaib Akhtar for that memorable six in the 2003 World Cup. There is something out of place with that feeling.
But then I realized that Poirot was with the Belgian police and had retired from service. Why should he then have so much nerves? I had to convince myself that he was totally new to the British environment, a World War was raging and a foreigner was looked upon with some suspicion, especially on the countryside. All these could contribute to a person being ill at ease even after years of mastering the profession. In subsequent titles written by Agatha Christie featuring Poirot, you can actually see Poirot dismissing the English contempt for foreigners with his own affability and superior intelligence. That’s the Poirot you are accustomed to seeing, not the often apprehensive one that you come across in the Styles affair.
The different feeling stayed with me until I finished the book. I thought he could have solved the mystery sooner than he actually did. I also harbored the notion that he was somewhat impatient with people, and showed a far more condescending attitude than he ever displayed later. I guess that is the transformation the character underwent and credit to Agatha Christie for making Poirot so endearing to readers worldwide, including yours truly. Going back in time and discovering that a person had a particular trait which you would never have associated with him/her upsets you in an unpleasant way. That is the reason, I guess, many of us do not want to know or reveal what transpired in the past when we come across a person whom we really get along well with or adore. Like a character in a book, we fear that if people know about our past, they may loathe us or they may see us in a totally different light. We tend to like people for who they are now, evolved and all.
Because of that lingering feeling, I had to grab another Poirot mystery of ensuing times just to bring myself back to the Poirot I liked. Not that I hated Poirot in the Styles affair, but my imagery of him was inconsistent and I prefer the Poirot of the later stories much, much more than the first one!