Monday, September 26, 2011

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie

61. Dumb Witness - an Hercule Poirot mystery
by Agatha Christie
mystery, 1937
Kindle book, 38
finished, 9/11/11

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.
'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.
The 'me' is Hastings. Bob has a different response to Hercule Poirot.
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.'
'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.
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 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.
Poirot and I were only drawn into the affair when we received Miss Arundell's letter.
This letter arrived toward the end of June, but was dated April 17, and Emily Arundell died on May 1!

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.


  1. I love the cover and I like the sound of the book (especially as you so sensibly pointed out that it's a 'safe' read for dog-lovers!). Thankyou, Nan.

  2. Ohh, not only Agatha, but also a wonderful pooch.

    I love this!

    Thank you dear Nan.

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  3. Karen, I think you'll like it.

    Sharon, I quite think it might be one of my faves of AC.

  4. I do love dogs and dogs in mysteries, especially the series by Susan Conant. This one by Christie sounds delightful.

  5. Harvee, it's been ages since I read a SC book. I must get back to that series. And I see she writes one with her daughter now. Have you read any of those books? More here if you haven't heard of them:

  6. Nan...your new header is beautiful (so very sweet). I need to start reading a few of the AC's I downloaded to Kindle...LOL

  7. Thank you for this review. A new one for me.

  8. I'm not surprised the 8th graders didn't know that meaning! I can remember a zillion years ago that we laughed (cruel kids) when there was a story in our religion class about someone who was deaf and dumb -- we knew as little as the kids in Tom's class did today (probably less).

    I was trying to find the word "anthropomorphism" in the dictionary just the other day -- I am always assigning human characteristics to birds! And I KNEW there was a word for it -- I knew it started with an ant...but I gave up before I found it! Thank you!!! (Not much smarter than I was in grade school really am I ;>)...

    Good post and I am on my second Hercule (not reading in any order though).

  9. I, too, love the cover. I've always liked wire-haired terriers and thought seriously about getting one a few years ago. And, Rod has always liked the name "Bob" for just about any pet. I'll be on the lookout for this book, for both of us. Thanks, Nan!

  10. I love this book but my version has a very ordinary cover compared to this one which I love.

  11. Oh, this sounds delightful, Nan, as does your coffee cake of your previous post. Hm. Some sour cream still in the refrigerator and the weather gloomy and cool. Wish I didn't have to run to a meeting. I, too, love the cover and appreciate hearing of the versatility of Agatha Christie.

  12. Christie at even less than her best is better than a lot of others. And Bob sold me - I'm reading this one!

  13. Diane, her books make the best nighttime reading. Nothing to trouble your dreams!

    Mystica, I hadn't heard of it before either. I really liked it.

    Sallie, this was a hilarious comment! I'm not reading M. Poirot in any particular order either.

    Les, I think of 'Bob Dog' on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. :<)

    Carole, at least you have a 'real' book. Mine is on the Kindle. Not the same thing. Convenient for me at bedtime but not the real deal at all.

    Penny, maybe tomorrow you'll have time to make it! And Bob is an enchanting fellow.

    Debbie, I absolutely agree!!

  14. LOVE the cover.

    Oh well, I'm a sucker for dog on a cover. :)

    I Like DUMB WITNESS but I read it under a different title...can't think of it right now. Oh, I think it's: POIROT LOSES A CLIENT.

    Anyway, I like this book very much.

    Really enjoyed your post, Nan. :)

    Love your header too.

  15. Yvette, I wonder if even back then the US publisher thought Americans would think it meant stupid instead of unable to speak, and didn't want there to be confusion. Actually, knowing the story, Poirot Loses A Client is a pretty good title. Witty.

  16. Speaking of dogs, I would love to just grab your dog and hug her to pieces. She looks like such a cuddly dog.

  17. Barbara, only huggable to her family. She doesn't much like anyone else. Her job, as she sees it, is to protect us from everyone. More about Sadie here:

  18. Now I'll have to pull out my audio of Dumb Witness and listen to it again! (A couple of years ago, I decided to start rereading Agatha Christie by building my audiobook collection of her works.) I don't remember paying too much attention to Bob the last time, so I definitely will this time.

    Have you read Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks? I think you might like it - you can see the way she came up with her ideas and how she plotted things and decided who the murderer was.

  19. I really like Agatha`s books. They are my favorite!

  20. Belle, Bob's not in it all that much. Neat idea to have them all on audio. I've listened to a few, narrated by the men who play Poirot and Hastings in the television versions, and they are quite, quite wonderful. I haven't read the Secret Notebooks. From what you wrote, I bet I would like it.

    Alexander, me too!

  21. This sounds like fun! I wouldn't want to read a book about a dog that dies, but a book like this sounds great. I need to read more widely in Agatha Christie!

  22. Rebecca, this was a particularly fun AC! I'm reading one now that is quite a bit darker, Dead Man's Folly.


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