6 March 2017

Review: DUMB WITNESS, Agatha Christie

  • this edition Center Point Large Print published 2013
  • originally published 1937 AKA USA edition POIROT LOSES A CLIENT
  • ISBN 978-1-61173-683-0
  • large print edition, 382 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Agatha Christie Wikia)

The story is set in Berkshire and centres on Emily Arundell, a wealthy spinster surrounded by grasping young relatives. She is injured by falling down a staircase, and everyone believes that she tripped over a ball left by her pet fox terrier, Bob. Emily later dies of natural causes (or so it is believed), and her estate is unexpectedly left to her companion, Miss Lawson. A letter written before her death to Hercule Poirot by Emily arrives too late to save her, but puts Poirot on the case. 

The book features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and is the second to last Poirot novel (the last being 1975's Curtain: Poirot's Last Case) to be published that features Hastings as narrator.

Dumb Witness was based on a short story entitled The Incident of the Dog's Ball. This short story was lost for many years but found by the authoress's daughter in a crate of her personal effects, in 2004. The Incident of the Dog's Ball was published in Britain in September 2009 in John Curran's Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years Of Mysteries. The short story was also published by The Strand Magazine in their tenth anniversary issue.

My Take

One of the focal points of this novel is the unreliable narrator. The assumption is that if the dog, Bob, could tell his story, he would be able to narrate what actually happened. But in fact Bob does not see all.

The principal narration is through the eyes of Captain Hastings, and the reader has come to expect that he often gets things wrong. But there are other points of view expressed including Poirot's. Under Hastings' influence we either dismiss or accept these other points of view, but which is the right one?

This is also a classic Poirot. Various red herrings are laid, and various scenarios and alibis tested, accepted or rejected. And then of course there is the final denouement. But Poirot has already meted out his own peculiar form of justice.

I thought there were at least a couple of unsatisfactory plot elements: I couldn't imagine anyone hammering a tack into wood in the middle of the night and expecting to go undetected, and I thought the murderer changed character too much. Unexpectedly Poirot becomes the owner of Bob the dog.

I originally reviewed this novel in 2011 and gave it the same rating. I have re-read it to participate in this month's Crime Fiction of the Year Challenge for 1937 at Past Offences.

My rating: 4.5
Check my other reviews in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

1 comment:

Clothes In Books said...

I re-read this fairly recently and it stands up well. I always thought of it as nobody's favourite Christie, but it's not that bad - though I agree with your reservations.


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