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.

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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.”

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.