The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Agatha Christie, 1920)

A recently married older woman meets a violent death by strychnine poisoning. The woman being rather wealthy, suspicion lights on her new husband, who it seems quite everyone takes for a flagrant gold-digger. Particularly suspicious is John, her stepson, who’s hard-up for cash and who was dependent on his stepmother’s support. Prior to her marriage, he had also been heir to the estate. Then there’s niece Cynthia, who works as a dispenser at the local hospital’s pharmacy; Dr. Bauerstein, a poisons expert who John’s wife Mary appears to be having an affair with; and we can’t forget John’s brother Lawrence, who, in the face of all evidence, maintains that his stepmother died of natural causes. It’s a puzzling case that only Hercule Poirot can unravel.

Inscription: E.M. Qunicky, on the inside front cover.

Now here’s a curious real-life mystery: Between pages 16 and 17 is a scrap of paper clipped or very neatly torn from the corner of a computer printout. On the print side, there are two columns of numbers that might be accounting of some sort. Whatever it is, the footer tells us it’s “Continued on next page.” It’s a dot-matrix printout that I would wager heavily came from a Commodore MPS 801 printer. I should know, because I had one myself. On top of this, there are several haphazardly scrawled numbers. From left to right, these are: 25, 22 (the initial two being almost illegible, a clearer 2 has been written beneath it); and 27 (this has been circled). Sideways along the right margin are what I’m sure are the last four digits of a phone number and “channel 25” — the number written over several times and underlined thrice. On the reverse side, there’s a full name and phone number. I recognized the latter as coming from a town not far from here. I looked it up in the phone book and, sure enough, it matched the name. The book is rather outdated, which is just as well, as I later discovered that the number’s owner died a few years ago at the age of 102.

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