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HCAU vs Agatha Christie: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Hello and welcome to ‘Kate doesn’t want to write their thesis and has decided instead to obsess over something that doesn’t matter’ – the game show where there are no winners! This week I will bring you along as I morph into an amateur detective and try to solve one of Agatha Christie’s famous novels, ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’.  

I should point out that the notes I took while reading the book may be far from perfect. At the time I only thought of noting down things that I felt were relevant, but now that I am trying to solve the mystery, I have realised that was a mistake. There may be things missing that are important to the plot and if this is the case, I am sorry, but I am only human and also, I will probably be just as mad as you that I missed something. 

So, without further ado, I present to you my (possibly flawed) re-telling of the events. 

PART I – Seriously guys, what is it with poison?  

Mr Hastings: Our incredibly messy narrator. He is currently on leave from the army, staying with his friend John Cavendish at his family’s manor. He has a crush on literally every young woman he sees, but particularly likes Mary Cavendish. He fancies himself an amateur detective, despite zero actual qualifications, because he has a detective friend (his ego = huge).  

John Cavendish: Lives with his stepmother and isn’t happy about it. Hastings calls him boring (a lot). He wants more money, but his mother is in control of his allowance. Overall, he whines a lot and I do not look forward to scenes with him (neither does Hastings). 

Mary Cavendish: Everyone comments on how pretty she is as though she is a painting rather than a human being. She mentioned that she has a special interest in poison and this comment was completely unprompted (???). 

Mrs (Emily) Inglethorp: John and Lawrence Cavendishs’ very rich stepmother. As John and Lawrence’s father is dead, she is now married to a man named Alfred. She is described as old and controlling, but nice at heart. She loves Alfred a lot and seems to be the only one who does (most of the dialogue in this book is people talking about how much they hate Alfred). 

Alfred Inglethorp: A young gold digger and possible adulterer (good for him). He has a big black beard and unusual clothing (I imagine this will be relevant later). No one likes him, especially his cousin Evelyn (not sure if they are actual cousins). He has a weak handshake (Hastings really hated that handshake). 

Lawrence Cavendish: Lives with his stepmother. He is very quiet and brooding. He was a doctor and gave it up to be a writer, but he is not a good writer and is now poor (and mad about it). Definitely has a crush on Cynthia but won’t admit it (I ship this so much).  

Cynthia Murdoch: She was rescued by Emily, something to do with her father being bad. She held hands with John one time and Lawrence didn’t seem to like it (because he loves her!) She works in a pharmacy and joked about poisoning people (???). 

Evelyn Howard: Cousin (although I am unsure what is meant by cousin) of Alfred and companion of Emily. Hates everyone, especially Alfred. Has been asked to leave Styles after telling Emily that Alfred is a golddigger/adulterer. Hastings (and others) say she is ugly but otherwise would have made a good wife in her youth (this is so rude). 

Dr Bauerstein: He apparently had a mental breakdown and is now trying to relax in the country (relatable). Specialises in poison (???). Is a (very) close friend of Mary which John (and Hastings) is not happy about.  

PART II – My bad, the poison makes sense now. 

Mrs (Emily) Inglethorp died in her bed at around 5o’clock. Before her death, Emily screamed Alfred’s name while looking at Dr Baustein. Witnesses to her death (Hastings, John, Lawrence, Dr Bauerstein, Mary and Cynthia) saw her convulsing and it is clear that her death was the result of strychnine poisoning (of course it was poison lol). Also in order to enter her room, Hastings and John had to break down a door that had been bolted from the inside.  

This was all about as dramatic as it sounds.  

PART III – No motives, just vibes. 

Mr Hastings: No motive, just vibes. He is just here to narrate, hit on every woman he sees, and make fun of John.  

John Cavendish: He has now inherited all of Emily’s money. However, Hastings briefly mentions that John would be too stupid to pull off a murder and that made me laugh a lot.  

Mary Cavendish: Is married to John and thus when he benefits so does she. However, Hastings refuses to believe she is capable of evil because he thinks she’s hot (men are so dumb). 

Alfred Inglethorp: Not sure what he would get out of killing Emily, maybe he’s trying to take her money, but he’s not in her will so uncertain about him. Everyone suspects him though.  

Lawrence Cavendish: Can’t see a benefit for him killing Emily, however, maybe he thought he would get money out of it through a deal with his brother? He acts very suspiciously throughout the book, lurking around corners and stuff.  

Cynthia Murdoch: Also can’t see why she would kill Emily, she gets more out of her being alive. I also really like her, maybe I am biassed.  

Evelyn Howard: Not sure what she would get out of killing Emily as she really seems to care for her. However, I have a hunch she is involved in the murder somehow, why else would she be mentioned as she plays no other role in the story? 

Dr Bauerstein: Not sure what he would get out of murdering Emily, but he is also very suspicious. Definitely up to something, but I’m not sure what. Hastings HATES this man because he spends so much time with Mary, so it is hard to know whether he is actually a suspicious character or not.  

PART IV – She may be dead, but at least the woman had a nice garden. 

The main clues that were found by characters in the story: 

  • Emily ate very little at dinner.  
  • All doors to Emily’s room were bolted from the inside.  
  • Purple despatch case with a strange key in the lock. 
  • A stain on the floor that is damp and smells like coffee. 
  • A fragment of dark green fabric. 
  • Candle wax and a ground coffee cup are on the floor by an upturned table. 
  • An empty jar of sleeping powder (made by Cynthia using bromide, I hope this isn’t relevant because I don’t know what it is and refuse to look it up). 
  • A will fragment in the fireplace (which Lawrence was staring at when Emily died, Hastings originally thought he was just scared of the fireplace lol). 
  • The garden beds under Emily’s window were re-done yesterday (a lot was said about this but what is the relevance?). 

PART V – Why did no one care that he was covered in mud? 

Additional clues that I noted down myself: 

  • Emily yelled at both Mary and an unidentified man yesterday. 
  • Mary made coffee for Emily after dinner, but Alfred brought it to her (may have contained poison). 
  • Emily also had hot chocolate before bed which apparently used to contain rum, which I think we need to bring back (and may also have contained poison).   
  • Dr Baustein was walking around the manor the night before the murder, covered in mud (no one thinks this is weird???). 
  • Mary claimed to hear Emily convulsing from the other side of the house (which is impossible, she is a LIAR). 
  • Lawrence was briefly alone with poison in Cynthia’s pharmacy. 
  • Someone bought poison from a different pharmacy, the chemist says it was Alfred (but also said he has never seen him before then so maybe not). 
  • Emily wrote a letter to her lawyer the day before her death and is known to change her will at least once a year. 

PART VI – I’ve never been so frustrated in my life! 

This is all the information that the book gives before the crime starts to be solved and yet I feel like I am missing something. At this point in the book, I wrote in my notes that Lawrence, Dr Bauerstein, John, Mary, and Alfred look the most suspicious. Evelyn is also in my bad books, but this is based on absolutely nothing because she doesn’t live in the manor and as such is never seen. I also noted that there are at least two sources of poison found in the house, which is a lot of poison, way more than is needed to kill Emily. Not sure what this means, some of them might be red herrings… 

My first theory was that Lawrence, John, and Mary worked together to kill Emily and were planning on splitting the money. This would fit with the fact that John has inherited all the money and that Lawrence is acting all sketchy and had time with some poison. It also fits with the fact that Mary made Emily coffee. But apparently, if Emily had ingested poison from this cup then she would have died sooner than she did, so maybe not? 

Another theory I had was that Dr Bauertsein poisoned her and then jumped out of her window into the garden beds and that is why he was found on their grounds covered in mud. Unfortunately, when I went back to look at timings this theory doesn’t hold, but it is possible I got them wrong. The window seems to be the only way in and out of the room. 

Finally, I didn’t have a theory for either of these characters, but I am still sus of Evelyn and Alfred. It is possible that Alfred saw a previous will that Emily made that included him and thus decided to kill her for her money, but she (for some unknown reason) made a new one last minute that didn’t include him? But I don’t know why she would do that. As for Evelyn, I honestly can’t think of a motive. I know that she and Alfred are cousins but she HATES him so they can’t be working together.  

Those were the only theories I could come up with for this murder mystery. All-in-all I was very confused. The method of murder was easy, Emily definitely got poisoned, but when and by who? There must be another way that Emily was poisoned but I can’t think of it. Poison in the coffee would have killed her more quickly than it did because she didn’t eat much but what else did she ingest… Unless Mary was able to sneak into her room before everyone arrived to see her die? But the rooms were bolted? Hmm… 

If I’m being completely honest with myself, I found this murder hard to solve because I was way too invested in the chaos that Hastings was causing. For example, despite being in love with Mary, Hastings decides (halfway through a murder investigation) to propose to Cynthia! I know, crazy right?! They are alone when it happens, and she was just crying about the uncertainty of her future now that Emily is dead and thanks to him for being a good listener. It is at this moment, spurred on by the teeny tiny compliment that she has given him, Hastings sees Cynthia as gorgeous (not quite as much as Mary though, his words not mine) and decides to propose. Why are you like this Hastings? Thankfully Cynthia says no by laughing hysterically at him and leaving him to mope. Best. Response. Ever.  

….5 days later…. 

It has been some time since I finished ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ and when I first finished this book, I was so unbelievably angry for a number of reasons: 

  1. Monsieur Poirot is the most infuriating detective I have ever had the displeasure of reading about. He messed around the entire time, saying one thing, and secretly believing another.  
  1. Hastings is horrible at remembering things and focuses way too much on unavailable women instead of the literal murder that just happened.  
  1. There were so many random lies and there was no reason to suspect the characters of the lies that they told.  
  1. I was not good at chemistry at school, and I had no idea that this would come back to bite me but you needed to be good at chemistry to solve the case.  

In the end, it turned out that Evelyn and Alfred were cousins, but they were also… wait for it… LOVERS! (I know, I’m not happy about it either).  

Evelyn was pretending to hate Alfred the whole time and together they had planned to kill Emily and take her money. In order to do this, Alfred let everyone believe he was an adulterer (even though he wasn’t) so Evelyn and everyone else would have a valid reason to hate him. Evelyn purposefully then got herself thrown out of the manor so that she could dress up as Alfred and buy a bunch of poison. However, Alfred had an alibi for this day so when he was arrested, they had to release him so the police ruled him out as a suspect. Meanwhile, these devious lovers had poisoned Emily two days before she died with the bromide sleeping powder (don’t ask me to explain how the chemistry was too much for me).   

Needless to say, I did not solve this murder, I wasn’t even close. I invested so much time into this and was so sad that I didn’t solve it. :(  

You might have won this one Agatha, but one day I will be back and solve one of your novels! 

Kate Moran

Aberdeen '22

Kate Moran | They/Them Psychology Student
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