Murder for Christmas (Agatha Christie, 1939)

An old man without long to live calls all his family together for one last Christmas, which is surprising given how much they hate one another. Old Simeon even hates Alfred, who’s always had a dog-like devotion to his father. Most of his other children have been estranged for decades. Simeon uses the opportunity to remind them that they’re all disappointments and he hopes that at least one of his illegitimate offspring isn’t a failure. That night, Simeon’s throat is cut. His door was locked from the inside and the windows were bolted so that they couldn’t be opened more than a few inches. No one unaccounted for entered or left the house. Who did it?

The clues dropped are rather strong — those by Simeon himself about other children he might have being suggestive, and those about son Harry, family friend Stephen, and police superintendent Sugden all looking alike downright giving the mystery away. I suppose the red herrings resulting from the diamond heist might muddle things, but I figured all along that was just a diversion and had nothing to do with the reason for the murder. I found it odd and rather telling that Sugden didn’t suggest that when rattling off possibilities for why the diamonds weren’t in the safe.

Also, Poirot’s screaming was inaudible from a few doors down but a carnival noisemaker could be heard all the way downstairs?

No inscriptions.

Sad Cypress (Agatha Christie, 1939)

Elinor receives an anonymous letter warning her that Mary Gerrard is trying to usurp her place in Laura Welman’s household. Laura had always taken a strong interest in Mary, sending her the best schools and abroad for her education, and really treating her as if she were her own child. Now that he’s had a stroke and is bedridden, Mary is with Laura constantly.

When her aunt dies interstate, Elinor inherits the whole of the £200,000 estate. It had always been expected that she and her cousin Roddy would each be willed half of it and that it wouldn’t matter anyway because they intended to marry. Now that seems to be dashed as Roddy confesses he doesn’t love Elinor and won’t simply marry for money. He’s not sure if he loves Mary, but he thinks he might.

Mary is poisoned to death. Only three people could have done it — Elinor, Nurse Hopkins, or Mary herself — but the only one with a motive is Elinor. Laura Welman’s body is exhumed and it’s discovered that she, too, was poisoned with a morphine overdose.

Not the most difficult mystery in the world. Laura treated Mary like her own daughter; I suspected right away that that’s what she was. Enter Lewis and there you go. Who is the murderer? Well, only two real possibilities, the doctor who engaged Poirot’s services (not though that would rule him out) or Nurse Hopkins. The one would be motivated for love, the other for money. When needle marks are discovered on Hopkins’s arm it rather suggests she’s acquainted with morphine.

No inscriptions.

The Tuesday Club Murders (Agatha Christie, 1928)

A group of acquaintances meet on Tuesday. Each presents an unsolved mystery that they personally know the answer to while the others try to guess. Invariably, Miss Marple guesses right by connecting it to some local bit of intrigue — she’s lived in the village her whole long life, and however small, a single village is a microcosm for the world. But the Tuesday Club, really, is just a loose framework for a short story collection. Most are well under twenty pages, a few do go on longer. At the end, Miss Marple has a chance to put her money where her mouth is and solve the mystery of Rose Emmott: whether it was suicide or murder, if the latter, to find out who did it.

Inscription: Stamped on the front endpaper “Fisher’s Bookshop & Circulating Library” in blue ink.

Murder in Three Acts (Agatha Christie, 1944)

At a party hosted by a retired actor, a vicar dies after drinking a cocktail. He was a kindly old man without an enemy in the world — who would want to kill him? It was murder: some time later, at another party, a well known psychiatrist dies in much the same manner, and autopsies prove that both were killed by a massive nicotine overdose. Hercule Poirot must solve the mystery, beginning with finding out how the first victim was related to the second… or, perhaps, how he wasn’t.

Inscriptions: This is another of Margaret E. Breckens’s books, signed and dated on the front flyleaf, Nov. 28, 1944.

Cards on the Table (Agatha Christie, 1936)

Mr. Shaitana, an eccentric who likes to model himself after Mephistopheles, invites Hercule Poirot to a bridge party. He’s a collector of many things and wants to show Poirot his rarest collection of all: his murderers. The four other guests, he says, have all killed in the past and gotten away with it.

But Shaitana, it turns out, wasn’t really an immortal evil — he’s proved quite mortal indeed when, at the party’s close, he’s found stabbed to death with a stiletto dagger. No one else entered the room and nobody left. One of the guests must have done it, but a motive is lacking, they’re largely unacquainted with each other, and none of them had more than the slightest familiarity with Shaitana. Is it the manly Major Despard, the timid Miss Meredith, the jovial Dr. Roberts, or the bridge champion Mrs. Lorrimer?

Good ending, very Clue-ish to give it away a bit, but for the one who actually did in Shaitana, the set up and reveal there was very well done.

Inscription: on the front fly leaf, Margaret E. Breckens, Dec. 10, 1944

The Body in the Library (Agatha Christie, 1941)

A woman is found strangled to death on the floor of Arthur Bantry’s library. She’s identified as Ruby Keene, a dancer at a nearby hotel. One of the residents at the hotel, Conway Jefferson, lost all his children in an accident some years before and now lives with their widow and widower. Jeff is content with the situation. They, however, want to move past their grief and get on with their lives. Jeff, feeling abandoned, took a fatherly interest in Ruby. He intended to adopt her and make her heir to his considerable fortune — cutting out the widow and widower. Mrs. Bantry calls on her old friend Miss Marple to help them find the murderer.

There are several false paths that the clues might lead you down, and I confess, the last one got me. I thought Jeff’s injuries were an act — that he was able walk and had killed Ruby in a fit of disillusioned anger after discovering that she wasn’t an innocent child and was, in fact, a common gold digger. I was so certain of this I actually daydreamed reading it. There is a major deception going on, but that isn’t it at all.

Inscription: on the flyleaf, “Margaret E. Burkins, 3422 Edmondson Ave., Baltimore 29, Md., Dec. 10, 1944”

13 At Dinner (Agatha Christie, 1933)

Jane Wilkinson is unhappily married to Lord Edgware. She wants to be rid of him to clear the way for her new amour, Duke Merton, and is quite willing to resort to murder if need be. In fact, she loudly proclaims so to all who will listen. The next day, Edgware is found dead. Jane is immediately suspected, but there are twelve witnesses who swear she was with them at a dinner party while the murder occurred. Hercule Poirot must unravel the mystery of Lord Edgware’s death and of the two additional deaths that follow it.

The linchpin of mystery — that Carlotta Adams was indeed impersonating Jane Wilkinson, but that she was the Jane at the dinner party while the real Jane was out murderin’ — I guessed right away. Everything pointed in that direction. The Geraldine diversion was good and in real life would have probably been correct, but by detective story logic, it was too on-the-nose. I will say, I was wrong about the source of the poison that killed Carlotta. Whether he was involved in the murder or not, I thought it came from Ronald Marsh. When he was introduced, Hastings thought he seemed a bit drunk and I figured he was actually strung out on barbiturates.

In all, it’s very similar to Carolyn Wells’s 1921 novel The Luminous Face.

Inscriptions: a plate pasted on the inside front cover reads “Waldo Peirce Reading Room” and “This book is given in memory -of- Florence M. Cushing.”