Mysterious Affair at Styles [1990]

The murderer isn't the only one with a secret to hide in this television adaptation of Agatha Christie's first novel. With the (often unwitting) help of his friend Arthur Hastings (Hugh Fraser), retired Belgian supersleuth Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) arranges the pieces of a puzzle, which include a broken coffee cup, spilled candle grease, untidy mantel ornaments, a fake beard, and a chief suspect who seems almost eager to be arrested. Place all these clues on the grand estate of a murdered matriarch as World War I draws to a close, and you have not only a fine mystery but also a quiet elegy to a way of life that would soon fade away. What this adaptation sacrifices in the romantic intrigues that flesh out the novel, it makes up for in setting. As with all the Poirot episodes, there is a sumptuous attention to detail, from the furnishings of Styles Court to the white spats on Poirot's shoes as he interrupts a military war game to give his fellow Belgians a lesson on local botany. Suchet's characterization of Poirot here verges on caricature at times, but it is still difficult to resist his charms as he skillfully peels away the layers of deception to reveal the truth. The DVD special features include biographies of David Suchet and Agatha Christie, challenging Poirot trivia questions and classic quotes, and a link to the official Agatha Christie Web site. --Larisa Lomacky Moore

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