61. Dumb Witness - an Hercule Poirot mystery
by Agatha Christie
Kindle book, 38
Isn't this just the best cover? It is the original English cover, and according to the Agatha Christie page, there is a new hardcover edition with an exact replica of the original. Here is the author's dedication:
To dear Peter,
most faithful of friends
and dearest of companions,
a dog in a thousand
This book is a treat for dog lovers! So often we avoid a book that has a dog in it for fear the dog might die. But in this book Bob, a wire-haired terrier is the star of the show! He's not in it too much but when he is, he just shines! In fact, his game of rolling a ball down the stairs for a human to catch and throw back up to him is perhaps the cause of Emily Arundell's fall.
One morning Miss Arundell is awakened by Bob's barking
… outside the front door - his own particular 'out all night very ashamed of himself' bark, pitched in a subdued key but repeated hopefully.We had a fellow like that. His name was Oreo, and he was part springer spaniel and part beagle. Many a night we'd fall asleep with the sound of his howling in the woods, and were awakened with his barks asking to be let in please, I'm tired. The dear boy died in January, 2003 a month shy of his 14th birthday.
Here are a couple Bob-isms from the book.
The terrier had continued to bark in some sequestered spot. Now the sound suddenly increased in volume. With a crescendo of barking he could be heard galloping across the hall.The 'me' is Hastings. Bob has a different response to Hercule Poirot.
'Who's come into the house? I'll tear him limb from limb,' was clearly the 'burden of his song.'
Bob, indeed, having discovered the intruders, completely changed his manner. He fussed in and introduced himself to us in an agreeable manner.
'Please to meet you, I'm sure,' he observed… Excuse the noise, won't you, but I have my job to do. Got to be careful who we let in, you know. But it's a dull life and I'm really quite pleased to see a visitor. Dogs of your own, I fancy?'
This last was addressed to me as I stopped and patted him.
Bob was now investigating the legs of Poirot's trousers. Having learned all he could he gave vent to a prolonged sniff (H'm, not too bad, but not really a doggy person').If this sort of thing bothers you in books, please don't be put off Dumb Witness. Bob doesn't make a lot of appearances, and these anthropomorphisms are few. But for those of us who do attribute such thoughts to our dogs, Bob is very real. I won't be giving anything away if I tell you there's a delightfully happy ending:
'My word, Poirot, it's good to have a dog again.'Until I began reading Agatha in earnest, I had no idea of the variety in her writing. The books are not formulaic fiction. Each book is a different case, with different situations, and even with different ways of telling the tale. In this one, the book begins as a straight story and goes on for four chapters in this manner. Then when Chapter 5, Hercule Poirot Receives a Letter begins, our old familiar narrator, Arthur Hastings tells us:
'The spoils of war,' said Poirot. 'But I would remind you, my friend that it was to me that Miss Lawson presented Bob, not to you.'
'Possibly,' I said. 'But you're not really any good with a dog, Poirot. You don't understand dog psychology! Now Bob and I understand each other perfectly, don't we?'
'Woof,' said Bob in energetic assent.
The events which I have just narrated were not, of course, known to me until a long time afterwards. But by questioning various members of the family in detail, I have, I think, set them down accurately enough.This letter arrived toward the end of June, but was dated April 17, and Emily Arundell died on May 1!
Poirot and I were only drawn into the affair when we received Miss Arundell's letter.
Though my Agatha Christie Companion
says it is 'not one of Christie's best,' I am exceedingly fond of Dumb Witness. Of course Bob is a fun addition to the cast of characters, but I also found it a realistic and disturbing view of this particular family. She is a very good judge of character, reminding the reader a bit of her fictional sleuth Miss Marple. I get the impression that Agatha Christie did a lot of observing in her encounters, and that she really paid attention. I felt so badly for Emily. Her nieces and nephews are such money-grubbers, barely caring for their old aunt other than as a bank.
To herself, Emily Arundell admitted what she would never have admitted to another human being, her dissatisfaction with the younger generation of her family.Emily wrestles with a serious conflict. Is blood really thicker than water, metaphorically speaking. Should she leave her money to these greedy, unloving relatives? A very sad state of affairs. And a very good mystery story.
As I was writing this, I found myself wondering if a young reader would know what the title's adjective meant. I emailed Tom:
Hey, could you ask a few students what they think 'dumb' means? I'm curious to know if the old meaning - 'unable to speak' is still known?And here is his reply:
Class's first reaction is 'stupid.' They don't think of the word dumb meaning unable to speak unless I say what about 'deaf and dumb.' Then they come up with the definition of not being able to speak. Scientific method huh? Class of 15. 8th grade.