This has always been one of my favourite Christie novels, even before I realised it was her first published work. I read it over and over again as I was growing up, but always with enough time between readings to forget who the criminal was. Now sadly, I have read it so much that I can't forget 'who did it' but I still enjoy it nevertheless.
The narrator, like most (all?) of her Poirot novels is Hastings. He is resting after an injury in the war and is invited to stay at a country property, Styles, with an old friend. While there, he finds himself embroiled in family drama as the matriarch of the family, Emily Cavendish, is poisoned, and it is clear that someone in the house must be responsible for it.
By luck, Hastings runs into his old friend Poirot, who on the request of hastings and the family, sets to work using his little grey cells to solve the murder.
I really loved that the Poirot introduced in this book is the Poirot we see in all the books. Christie just got his character so spot on right from the very beginning that he is thoroughly consistent throughout all the books in which he appears. He finds himself in England as a refugee from the war, a fact that had escaped my notice until this reading of the book.
In this book we also have the varied cast of characters upon whom suspicion is thrown. There is Alfred Inglethorpe, Emily's new and much younger husband upon whim suspicion in naturally initially thrown. There are her sons, Lawrence and John Cavendish, both of whom have their own motives for doing away with their mother. Also in the house is Mary Cavendish, John's beautiful but unsatisfied wife who may or may not be having an affair with the dark and handsome toxicologist (yes, a very suspicious profession when someone has been poisoned) Dr Bauerstein. There is Cynthia Murdoch, an orphan who has been taken into the family and of course the eccentric Evelyn Howard, Emily longest friend and paid companion.
Then of course there are the marvellous clues that Christie scatters throughout the book. Who left the footprints outside the window? Why is there a green fabric caught in the latch of the murdered woman's bedroom door? Can Cynthia really be that sound a sleeper? Who was arguing with Emily on the day of her death and what was that argument about? Why is there a crushed coffee cup on the floor of the bedroom, next to a puddle of candle wax?
Despite it being her first work, this is a book that is bound to keeping you guessing until the end.