As Alice de Sturler leafed through her used copy of Agatha Christie’s “The ABC Murders” last month, she was shocked to discover a compelling mystery not on the pages, but between them.
Tucked halfway through the novel was a piece of paper folded in two. In red marker, someone had sketched a well surrounded by flowers. A smattering of stains suggested the card was well loved.
A message on the front in smudged blue ink read: “Happy Mother’s Day.” Inside was a more personal inscription: “To Mum, love from Kit.”
Ms. de Sturler, a true-crime blogger in southwestern Virginia, had recently watched a movie version of “The ABC Murders,” in which the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot works to solve the case of a serial killer who murders his victims in alphabetical order, and she wanted to read the book for herself. She ordered a paperback copy from Better World Books, an online bookseller, and when she opened it on Nov. 12, she found the additional plot twist. Ms. de Sturler set out to reunite the card with its author or recipient.
“When ‘The ABC Murders’ arrived, it fell open to pages 104 and 105, and there was a bookmark there,” she said. “If the card was meant for me, I would want it back.”
The clues began to multiply. Inside the book was a checkout card from Norfolk Libraries in Norfolk, England. Two solitary dates were stamped on it, potentially signaling when the book was last borrowed — April 15, 2019 — and when it was returned: Jan. 24, 2020.
“Maybe it was handed back to the library in a rush because the last stamp is from 2020,” Ms. de Sturler said. “It’s right before we went into lockdown with the pandemic, so maybe somebody was cleaning up their house and thinking: ‘Oh, we’re going to be in lockdown. Libraries are going to close, our stores are going to close. I need to hand it back.’”
Alison Thorne, a librarian at Norfolk Libraries, wasn’t so sure. She said that she thought the Mother’s Day card looked quite old — “historic,” as she put it — and that not all books are stamped every time they’re checked in or out. At any rate, she said, it’s far from the strangest thing that has ever fallen out of a book.
“A colleague once found a piece of bacon, cooked, as a bookmark,” Ms. Thorne said. “I’m a vegetarian, so I really object to that.”
Usually when librarians come across lost items in books, they will leave them in the library’s lost and found, she said, so it was curious that the card was still in the book. How the Mother’s Day card had made it all the way across the Atlantic Ocean was a “right little mystery,” she said.
“That’s the joy of all these reselling sites,” she said. “Books can go anywhere in the world.”
Carl Turner, a spokesman for the Norfolk County Council, which runs Norfolk’s library system, said this particular copy of “The ABC Murders” was believed to have belonged to the Millennium Library in Norwich. But books move around the system, he said, so its last location could have been anywhere in the county.
As any modern day detective tackling a mystery would do, Ms. de Sturler took the case to the internet, posting about the card on her blog, but online sleuths failed to produce any promising leads. Then a British friend of Ms. de Sturler decided to reach out to the BBC in Norfolk.
Suddenly, Ms. de Sturler was on the air in Agatha Christie’s home country, making a direct appeal to radio listeners in Norfolk for any information that might help reunite the card with Kit, or Kit’s Mum. Amy Blunt, the BBC journalist who first reported the story, said she could picture Kit’s mother kicking herself for losing track of the card but believed that the community would crack the case.
“I’m hopeful because the people of Norfolk, we’re a lovely bunch,” she said. “And you can just hear the collective, countywide ‘Aww.’ So if anyone’s going to do it, it’s us. We’ll reunite them, hopefully.”
Ms. Blunt also noted that the card, if it was in fact being used as a bookmark, was found only halfway through the book.
“She doesn’t even know what happened at the end of the book,” Ms. Blunt said. “So she’s lost this beautiful Mother’s Day card from Kit and also doesn’t know what happens at the end of ‘ABC Murders.’”
While there have been no leads yet, Ms. de Sturler mailed the Mother’s Day card to Ms. Blunt in late November, so that if the owner is found, the card will be in Norfolk for its rightful owner to claim.
Ms. de Sturler said she doesn’t know what Agatha Christie would have made of all this.
“She may not have had the same sentimental feelings as I have about every and any drawing that your kids make,” she said. “Maybe she would have said, ‘Ah, it’s one of many cards.’”