Literacy 2023: Book 15: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The first Hercule Poirot mystery is essentially a template for everything we expect from an Agatha Christie murder mystery

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

When Emily Inglethorpe, wealthy owner of a manor house in a small English village, is murdered in a locked room in the middle of the night, retired detective Hercule Poirot is entreated by the victim’s family to help investigate.


  • The definition of a classic murder mystery, with a house full of suspects, each with their own private scandals and agendas and intrigue that Poirot has to sort out along with the murder itself.
  • You’d never guess this was Hercule Poirot’s first appearance, as he seems to be a fully-formed character from the start, already having all of his eccentricities, mannerisms, benign condescension, and tendency to disappear for chapters at a time only to reveal his discoveries at the last minute.
  • Once the case is solved, Christie goes back through the details to demonstrate how she played fair the entire time. All of the clues are there, even though they’re buried under a mountain of red herrings and subplots.
  • The most relevant clues are repeatedly mentioned, so as everything was tied together, I almost always thought, “oh yes, I remember that detail.”
  • Cleverly throws suspicion among its characters, making the reader feel as if they’ve gotten a solid “vibe” about whodunnit even if they can’t provide any real evidence.


  • Even if you notice all of the clues, and even if you make the correct deductions from them (e.g. realizing that someone was obviously wearing a disguise), the actual chain of events that Poirot explains is so convoluted that it would’ve been impossible to guess.
  • Unlike Christie’s later books, this is extremely dated and unmistakably a product of its time.

Not my favorite Agatha Christie mystery, but it’s a solid and entertaining story that illustrates just how much she was a master of the genre. As I’ve been reading and re-reading her books this year, I’ve been amazed at how experimental she could be and at how timeless her work could be. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is neither timeless or experimental, but it does feel as if it shows her interests: it seems that an intricately-constructed murder mystery came easy to her, and she just used them as the backdrop to create interesting characters and tell their stories.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: It Was a Very Good Year

Two tangentially-related tunes that came out when I was 21

One of the only things that Bluesky has over Mastodon is that it’s a better home for hashtag games and “what’s your favorite?” style threads. A recent one asked everybody to name a perfect album from when they were 21, presumably for identity theft purposes, but also for fun.

It turns out that a surprising number of pretty great albums came out when I was 21 years old. One of them was Check Your Head by the Beastie Boys. I always think of that one as being one long uninterrupted song, plus “So Whatcha Want,” so it’s kind of hard to pick a stand-out. All of the tracks blend with the interstitials and samples, and I never remember individual titles.

Hard to pick a stand-out, but not impossible: “Stand Together” picks up from Peter Sichel’s comfortable study (“Mmm, it does go well with the fish.” “Delicious again, Peter.”) and builds up energy to carry through the final third of the album. I vividly remember driving through Marin County with this playing as loud as my car’s cheap stereo could handle.

That wasn’t when I was 21, though. I wasn’t cool enough to appreciate the Beastie Boys until Hello Nasty came out. In 1992, I was still heavily invested in my favorite bands from college, including the Indigo Girls. That was the year Rites of Passage came out, and the big hit from that one was “Galileo.”

I always thought they were a little underrated, even though the truth was probably more that they’ve always been exactly as successful as they wanted to be, making folk-pop songs about reincarnation. In any case, it was nice to see them have another song get as much attention as “Closer to Fine” did.

Peace & Love

In honor of Shane MacGowan’s passing, some thoughts about what a huge impact the Pogues had on me

Shane MacGowan died on November 30, and the Pogues were such a huge part of my twenties that I feel like I have to mark the occasion somehow.1It’s overdue, since I probably should’ve written something when Philip Chevron passed in 2013.

I discovered the band from Peace & Love when I was in school in Athens, GA. I don’t think I’d been looking for any particular song; I just thought the cover was intriguing, and it took me a minute to realize how it’d been edited. It’s probably the most accessible of their albums, even though it feels a little tame. There’s a lot of the spirit of the band (or at least how I think of it) in “Young Ned of the Hill,” beautifully cursing Oliver Cromwell to rot in hell; and especially “Boat Train,” a barely intelligible account of getting shitfaced drunk.

Which would’ve fit in fine with Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, my favorite in college. It still seems like as close to a mission statement for the Pogues as you’re ever going to see. I couldn’t get enough of it. I was about as far from punk as you could get, but still appreciated getting the opportunity to scream along and howl at the world with a rage I hadn’t earned yet. The remastered and expanded version is especially nice, because it includes an EP2That was weirdly difficult to find back in Athens in the early 1990s, incidentally that has “Rainy Night in Soho,” one of the loveliest songs MacGowan ever wrote.3The only version that’s easily available now is so over-produced it kind of ruins it, though. It’s worth looking up the original if you’re a fan of the song.

Continue reading “Peace & Love”
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    It’s overdue, since I probably should’ve written something when Philip Chevron passed in 2013.
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    That was weirdly difficult to find back in Athens in the early 1990s, incidentally
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    The only version that’s easily available now is so over-produced it kind of ruins it, though. It’s worth looking up the original if you’re a fan of the song.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Move Fast and Break Down

Two tangentially-related tunes to listen to while waiting for Silicon Valley to collapse

I don’t know about y’all, but I was already pretty disillusioned with Silicon Valley several years ago, when I was working as an app developer in San Francisco. I was shuffling between BART and MUNI trains with a bunch of hoodie-wearing maniacs pacing back and forth like caged tigers who couldn’t wait one more second to get to their open-office-plan desks and start disrupting shit.

And that was before I really appreciated the incredible magnitude of egomania that was running rampant among the guys making way over my pay grade, who acted like bypassing governmental regulations and selling people stuff they don’t really need were revolutionary ideas.

In fact, neither moving fast nor breaking things were all that novel. Look at Fiona Apple! Maybe no other public figure besides Sonic the Hedgehog understood what it meant to move as Fast As You Can.

Corny dad-level analogies aside, every time I hear a Fiona Apple song, I think “this is brilliant; why don’t I listen to Fiona Apple all the damn time?” And then I listen to a bunch and I remember why. She’s brilliant, but I don’t feel like I have brain chemistry balanced enough to mainline too much of it at once without going into a depressive episode.

I need to break it up with a song like “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” by En Vogue, which I try to listen to at least once a month to keep my spirits up. If I go too long without hearing it, the never gonna get it never gonna get it starts to pick away at my brain until it’s satiated. I can’t say I’m that familiar with the rest of their music1Although “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” is also excellent, but this song is a bona fide classic.

(One thing I’ve never understood about this video: they’ve got four of the most beautiful women working in music, with some of the most iconic costumes from the history of music videos, so why the hell do they keep cutting away from them? I understand that at this time, having quick flashes of silhouetted dancers against a solid color background was required by Music Video Law, but they could’ve just done a couple and left more time for the stars. And I tell you what: if I’d gone to the trouble of putting on a tight dress and a wig, and they told me they were going to cut away to some guy dancing in a gimp suit, I would’ve been out the door!)

And now it’s time for a breakdown!

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    Although “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” is also excellent

Blessed are the Mid

Rambling, unorganized thoughts about living up to expectations and how it’s okay to be okay

I spent Thanksgiving week at the house I grew up in, which is something I took for granted and something I hadn’t expected to be grateful for. I found myself up too late with insomnia, lying in a single bed with all the lights off, listening to Led Zeppelin IV way too loud on headphones, “The Battle of Evermore” and “Stairway to Heaven” crashing over me like waves, as if I’d been QuantumLeaped back to the early 1980s.

How often does a 52-year-old man get to relive being 13 or 14 years old so vividly?

Lying in the dark with music blasting has always left me feeling both expansive and maudlin. This was no exception. I thought about all of the things I wanted to do as a teenager, and I compared it to how many of them I accomplished, and how many I still want to accomplish. That’s not generally a healthy mental exercise even in the best of times, but it feels like the past couple of weeks have been particularly harsh for anyone who feels like they’re under-performing.

Continue reading “Blessed are the Mid”

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Elevator Lady Edition

Two tangentially-related tunes to make you think of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and alternate realities

Back during my college years in Athens, a friend introduced me to the band Poi Dog Pondering, and I quickly became a big fan. They’re not so much my thing anymore — listening to them in the 2020s makes me appreciate just how much they were a product of the 1990s — but a few of their songs are still favorites, and seeing them at the Georgia Theater is still one of my all-time top concerts.

This week it seems appropriate to recall one of the best songs from their album Wishing Like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sea, which is called “Thanksgiving.” It’s about the priceless moments that can result from bad choices, which is a recurring theme with all the multiverse stories going on these days with the Marvels and the Daniels and so on.

In college I was also introduced to the Pixies by seeing the video for “Here Comes Your Man” on 120 Minutes, buying a copy of Doolittle, and then being incensed that I’d been promised a fun college pop record and instead gotten a CD full of some guy screaming. It makes me wonder whether my life would’ve been different if I hadn’t needed to mature into an appreciation of the Pixies, but instead had understood them immediately and gone to their concert in Athens when I’d had the chance.

Probably not, although I did find out a few years ago that before I met my fiancé, we’d both been at the same Pixies concert, which makes me think that our paths were probably fated to cross at some point.

I think in all possible universes, though, my favorite Pixies song would still be “Levitate Me,” from their first EP, Come on Pilgrim. Happy Thanksgiving to everybody who celebrates!

Hey Now, Dolly

In honor of Dolly Parton’s new album of covers, an atypically mean-spirited list of my least favorite songs

Everybody loves Dolly Parton; how could you not? This week, she released a new album of covers called Rockstar, and even if you don’t care about the music, just the description of it and how it came to be is so charming and wholesome and fully in the spirit of Dolly.

A while ago, she politely declined an invitation to be admitted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, pointing out that most of her music was country, not rock. 1Gracious but absurd! “9 to 5” alone is one of the most memorable pop songs of all time! Eventually, she accepted, and then she called a ton of famous musicians to collaborate on “real” rock songs, which became this record.

What I love most about that account2Which I read on the album’s description on its Apple Music page is that I’m not 100% sure that it’s absolutely true, but as with all things Dolly Parton, it 100% doesn’t matter.

Continue reading “Hey Now, Dolly”
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    Gracious but absurd! “9 to 5” alone is one of the most memorable pop songs of all time!
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    Which I read on the album’s description on its Apple Music page

We Interrupt This Broadcast

About the exodus of accounts from Mastodon, and all the things that make social media deeply unnatural

Featured image from the Wikipedia entry on Survivorship Bias, image By Martin Grandjean (vector), McGeddon (picture), Cameron Moll (concept) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

For about as long as I’ve been using Mastodon, there’ve been people warning us about dire problems with Mastodon. Problems that threaten to take down the entire platform unless we take notice and do something about it.

Journalists warned us that we have to have quote-tweets and full text search, or they’ll have to abandon the platform. Waves of tech pundits have assured us that the sign-on process is far too complicated for the platform to ever replace the ease of Twitter.

And over the past few weeks, I’ve seen one account after the other announce that they’re leaving Mastodon (or significantly reducing their presence) because of tone policing, harassment, and the unwieldiness of the Mastodon interface when dealing with hundreds of notifications. The idea, most often, is that those of us who are invested in the platform need to be concerned about this, and we need to work harder to make a welcoming community.

Continue reading “We Interrupt This Broadcast”

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Solomon Grundy Want Ironic College Radio Hit, Too!

Two tangentially-related tunes we need to keep out of the hands of Zack Snyder

Today’s two tunes have something very obvious in common: I listened to them a lot during college.

“Superman” was the last song on Lifes Rich Pageant, which is REM’s best album. Anyone living in Athens in the 80s or 90s was required to be at least a passing fan of REM, but I stayed true until around Automatic for the People, which is when they lost me. Their take used Superman as metaphor, unlike:

“Superman’s Song,” which was a minor hit from Crash Test Dummies’ first album The Ghosts That Haunt Me, before they hit it pretty big with God Shuffled His Feet. They were always dancing along the razor’s edge between “interesting college radio” and “absolutely insufferable and twee,” even back in 1990s when that was The Style. I approved of this song mostly because it mentioned Solomon Grundy in the chorus.

Solomon Grundy is the best villain and never got as nearly as much radio airtime as he deserves. If you don’t recognize the title of this blog post, by the way, it’s a reference to the best thing Cartoon Network ever did.

One Thing I Like About The Marvels

The Marvels is full of moments that remind you it’s essentially the polar opposite of Captain America: Civil War

The Marvels is undeniably a little bit of a mess. It’s abundantly clear that there were too many ideas that people got attached to, and the filmmakers tried to cram everything into it. In addition to what was undoubtedly tons of edits due to studio interference and so on, the result is that moments don’t land as well as they could have, and the movie ends up feeling both overstuffed and slight.1I also feel like there was a continuity error more glaring than I’d ever expect from an MCU installment: I’d swear that Kamala goes from wearing the Ms Marvel costume her mother made for her at the end of the series, to wearing a T-shirt and flannel, with no explanation for the change. I don’t care all that much, but I bring it up because I never ever notice that kind of thing, which makes me think it must have been glaring.

But I honestly don’t believe it matters a bit, because there’s more than enough charm and fun to carry the whole thing through.

The thing I kept thinking of throughout the movie was, oddly, Donald Glover’s story about his meeting Billy Dee Williams to try and get some ideas on how to approach the role of Lando Calrissian: after all the setup and research and questions, Williams’s response was simply, “Just be charming.”

I think it’s tough for post-Endgame audiences to appreciate just how much of the MCU was built on simply that mantra: just be charming and accessible. While looking for images from The Marvels, I couldn’t avoid seeing a review snippet that complained that the MCU was floundering now that it has lost all of its “heavy hitters.” I realize I need to remember that the franchise is over 10 years old at this point, so people might not remember, but I still can’t get over anyone suggesting that Iron-Man and Thor were “heavy hitters.” People need to realize that this entire franchise was built off the B- and C-listers. And the franchise was started by treating Iron-Man as a romantic comedy with also robot suits, with the overriding idea being “just be charming.”

Continue reading “One Thing I Like About The Marvels”
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    I also feel like there was a continuity error more glaring than I’d ever expect from an MCU installment: I’d swear that Kamala goes from wearing the Ms Marvel costume her mother made for her at the end of the series, to wearing a T-shirt and flannel, with no explanation for the change. I don’t care all that much, but I bring it up because I never ever notice that kind of thing, which makes me think it must have been glaring.

Sound Mind, or, Committing to the (1) Bit

About my recently-announced game and some recommendations for other Playdate games

Wednesday morning, Panic ran a Playdate Update video that previewed some upcoming games for the platform, including one I’m working on called Sound Mind.

It’s a two-player game where you play as siblings fighting over your father’s inheritance. On your turn, you’re trying to find the bag of money and keep it all for yourself. Then you hand the Playdate to your opponent, and your character is frozen helplessly in place, while your sibling is trying to steal back the money for themselves. You can’t see what they’re doing, but you can hear every step and every movement.

The idea for the game came during a road trip down to southern California while we were getting ready to move. At a car charging stop, my fiancé was playing with the Playdate. I couldn’t see what he was doing, but the device has a pretty great speaker, so I could hear every bit of it. And the sound effects were distinctive enough that I could piece together a reasonably accurate image of what he was doing.

Since 2023 was supposed to be the year of my glorious voluntary unemployment, I thought I’d be able to casually finish up this game in just a few months without even breaking a sweat.1Honestly, I was well aware my schedule was comically over-ambitious, but I wanted to try and keep myself on task. Then I had to go and ruin everything by getting a full-time job. My pace has slowed way down, but I’m still plugging away at it to be released next year.

I submitted a bunch of ideas2Well, okay, four to Panic, and I suspect they’re more perceptive than I am at seeing the potential in a half-baked idea. As I’ve been working on Sound Mind, it’s kind of gone from just a novelty to something that fits in well with what I think is the whole gestalt of the Playdate: it’s kind of a weird idea that wouldn’t work as well anywhere else, it’s a fairly simple concept that’s going to succeed or fail in the execution, and the platform itself is small and lo-fi enough that there’s room for me to get goofy.

So I can fill it with homages to Edward Gorey and extremely dated references to 1970s horror movies, for instance, and I don’t have to look at anybody’s stinkface reaction that it’s too niche to be marketable.3Hypothetically speaking.

Plus I can’t say enough what a fan I am of Panic. Everybody I’ve dealt with has been surprisingly and unnecessarily nice and supportive, without exception. And I’ve been grateful for their patience, as they’re a lot more laid back than it seems like a company that’s so famously detail-oriented could get away with being.

Or to put it more simply: come for the crank, stay for the supportive environment and platform that favors novelty and creativity and seeks to empower people to make cool stuff.

And finally, here are some game recommendations for the Playdate, since it’s been a while since I’ve made any. (This isn’t in any way exhaustive, since I’ve had very little time to play anything, so I only catch about 5% of what’s out there).

Continue reading “Sound Mind, or, Committing to the (1) Bit”
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    Honestly, I was well aware my schedule was comically over-ambitious, but I wanted to try and keep myself on task.
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    Well, okay, four
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Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Moonlighting

Two tangentially-related tunes from artists in other bands

I’ve really been taken by the song and video for “By Design” by mmeadows, from their album Light Moves Around You. I’d heard about it via the Dirty Projectors newsletter, because Kristin Slipp is also in the current incarnation of Dirty Projectors.

One thing that is driving me crazy about “By Design” is that the sample of horns that gets repeated throughout sounds frustratingly familiar, like I’m this close to recognizing it from a different song, but I can never quite place it. Even if it’s not directly sampled from another song, though, it feels very much like the kind of stuff I was listening to in the early 2000s, when it felt like I was starting to discover new music again after a long hiatus.

That was around the time I got into the Beastie Boys, since I was a latecomer and only started being interested around the time of Hello Nasty1Still my favorite of their albums, not that anybody asked.. Money Mark started collaborating with the Beastie Boys starting with Check Your Head2Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet. That was enough to get me to check out his solo album Push the Button, which is still pretty solid.

My favorite track from that record is the instrumental “Destroyer,” and to this day I don’t know how he got that drum sound3I asked him on Threads and got no response. Some people act like they’re “too busy” to respond to randos asking them open-ended questions about 20+ year old records!.

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    Still my favorite of their albums, not that anybody asked.
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    Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet
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    I asked him on Threads and got no response. Some people act like they’re “too busy” to respond to randos asking them open-ended questions about 20+ year old records!