It is strange how a particular place can invoke a plethora of memories and bring about a nostalgic rush at the same time. It seems only yesterday I was travelling to Styles for the first time, foolishly believing the best years of my life were behind me. Little did I know at that time I was on my way to meet a man whose influence over me was to mould my entire being and change my outlook towards life; and here I was once again, travelling to the same country house in Essex. The prospect of seeing Poirot again kept me animated through the dreary journey. I had missed him dearly.
Hercule Poirot. His egg-shaped bald head, magnificent moustache, penchant for order, and famous ‘little grey cells’ were renowned the world over. Over the years, we had been inseparable as Poirot had built himself a reputation for solving the most challenging of cases as a private detective after his retirement from the Belgian police force. I had last met him over a year ago, and it had saddened me immensely to see with my own eyes the devastation old age had wrought upon him. Crippled with arthritis, he had to move around in a wheelchair with his valet having to cater to every need of his. His face had become wrinkled and lined, and he had lost his plump frame. I had learned that Poirot had been living in Styles for some time, and my heart yearned to enjoy his company once more.
Poirot had written a letter asking me to join him at Styles on an urgent errand. On my arrival, Poirot told me to my great surprise that he was on the trail of a criminal mastermind whose pursuit had brought him to Styles. Five unrelated murders had taken place, and Poirot was convinced that his suspect was linked to each one of them. It was Poirot’s belief that this mysterious villain, whom he referred to as only ‘X’, was present among the occupants of the guest house that Styles had been transformed into.
In the beginning, I had my doubts about the whole business. In the case studies of the five murders Poirot had shown me, it was evident that the guilt of the murderers had been proven beyond doubt. After I had been introduced to all the guests occupying Styles, my scepticism increased further. They all seemed nice, friendly people and I could not bring myself to believe that one of them was a maniacal serial killer who had already committed five murders in cold blood and was planning another while at Styles, according to Poirot. I remembered a case Poirot had once recounted to me upon my insistence that there must have been an instance when his little grey cells had failed to function properly; the case of ‘The Chocolate Box’. I thought to myself it was only natural for Poirot to be imagining crime everywhere he went in his old age since his whole life had been dedicated to fighting crime and evil. However, I dismissed these unpleasant thoughts from my mind and reminded myself of Poirot’s unparalleled ability to solve the most baffling cases throughout his distinguished career.
Poirot had asked me to become his eyes and ears at Styles which is exactly what I did. I reported every incident that took place around the house to Poirot and kept him aware of daily developments. Poirot had always been secretive in his ideas and theories but the complete lack of information he provided irritated me beyond measurable extent. My misgivings were laid to rest and Poirot’s theory was proven correct when an attempt on an occupant’s life was made. Poirot told me then that this would be the last case we would solve together and that at the end of his career, he had finally come across the perfect criminal. What began as ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ would fittingly end at the same place as ‘Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case’.
At the end, all I recall is Poirot signing off our first adventure at Styles with “we shall hunt together again”. The end of Poirot’s manuscript read “We shall never hunt together again, my friend.” Grief overtook my senses as my mind wandered off to memories of all the cases we had solved together. Poirot always said I had too trusting a nature. Maybe he was right. I never guessed. I never guessed…
(Written from the perspective of Captain Arthur Hastings, companion-chronicler and best friend of Hercule Poirot throughout his detective career)