Monday, 29 July 2013

Dumb Witness - Agatha Christie

I've mentioned a few times that I have spent the past couple of months immersed in Agatha Christie, being the only author who was able to circumnavigate my reader's block - everything else I tried was abandoned after a page or two, but I could tear through a Christie in a day or two.  Thankfully (for my general reading) I'm now having more success getting past p.1 with other authors, although it's still a bit impeded, but I did enjoy getting into Christie mode and wolfing them down.

I haven't blogged about them, partly because Christie novels are often very similar and partly because you can't say much without giving the game away - but in the spirit of my Reading Presently project (reading and reviewing 50 books in 2013 that were given to me as presents) I shall write about Dumb Witness, because my lovely colleague Fiona gave it to me when I left my job at OUP (which, incidentally, I am missing furiously.)  It was (is?) published in the US under the rather-better title Poirot Loses A Client.

We had quite a lot of chats about Agatha Christie over the months, but the reason Fiona picked Dumb Witness as my leaving gift wasn't only because she knew I hadn't read it - it was because of the dog on the cover.  We had lengthy cat vs. dog arguments (publishers, it turns out, tend to prefer dogs - librarians and book bloggers definitely fall down on the cat side) and this was Fiona's funny way of making a point - so, of course, I used a bookmark with a cat on it.  Sherpa, in fact, painted on a bookmark by Mum.

Dumb Witness is a Poirot/Hastings novel, which is my favourite type of Christie after a Marple-takes-centre-stage novel (she is sadly sidelined in a few of her own novels).  You may recall an excerpt I posted from Lord Edgware Dies, in which the delightful relationship between Hastings and Poirot is perfectly illustrated.  More of the same in Dumb Witness - Hastings constantly makes suppositions and conclusions which Poirot bats away in frustration, never revealing quite why Hastings is wrong (other than his touching readiness to believe what he is told by almost anyone) and holding his own cards close to his chest.

I shall say very little about the plot, because (unlike most novels I read) the plot is of course crucially important in a detective novel - so I'll just mention the premise.  Poirot wishes to follow up a letter he has received Miss Emily Arundell, asking him to investigate an accident she had - falling down the stairs, after tripping on her dog's ball.  Her letter isn't very coherent, but she seems to be suggesting that it may not have been an accident... Although she recovers from the minor injuries sustained in this fall, by the time Poirot receives the letter - mysteriously, two months later - she has died from a long-standing liver complaint.  Poirot decides to accept the posthumous commission into attempted murder...

As far as plot and solution go, Dumb Witness has all the satisfying twists, turns, and surprises that we all expect from a Christie novel - it certainly doesn't disappoint on this front, and this is one especially excellent twist, albeit with a few cruder details that are not worthy of her name on the cover.  But, alongside that, I loved Poirot's determination that attempted murder should be investigated and prosecuted, whether or not the victim was dead - Hastings, for all his gentlemanly bluster, can't see why it is a matter of importance.  Poirot's moral backbone is one of the reasons I find him such a fantastic character.

And the dog?  Yes, Fiona, the dog (Bob) is rather fun, and Hastings is predictably wonderful about him - although I did find the amount of words put in the mouth of Bob a little off-putting.  It reminded me of Enid Blyton's technique of including passages along the lines of "'"Woof', said Timmy, as if to say 'They've gone to the cove to fetch the boat'."  There, I believe, I have spotted the major flaw with Dumb Witness - or at least, an aspect where it could be improved.  It would be a far superior novel, had it featured a cat.

21 comments:

  1. This cracked me up: "Enid Blyton's technique of including passages along the lines of "'"Woof', said Timmy, as if to say 'They've gone to the cove to fetch the boat'." - like Lassie, where one "woof" can convey, "Run quickly, Timmy has fallen down the well again!" But ailurophile though I am, I don't think cats would be much use in a mystery. They'd either be asleep or studiously turning their back just at the crucial moment. But they do raise the tone of a book, much more than a dog.

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    1. I do love Timmy, he is so wise! And how right you are - a cat wouldn't care at all about solving a mystery. Has a cat detective been written in earnest? I'd love to read one... or a novel where the cat held the evidence, and could someone give it...

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  2. Sitting here chuckling at this post Simon. Love the comraderie ? of you and your friend re: dog vrs cat. The book sounds like a good one. Hercule is a favourite of mine and I have not read this. Being such a dog person I may have to see if it is on an Agatha Christie list of books on my Kindle I found.

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    1. Fiona and I do have fun arguing over it, Pam! If you're a dog person, you'll love this :)

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  3. Ah, Simon, a cat would have solved the mystery in mere moments. A cat could have told Poirot all he needed to know. A cat could have short-circuited the story and gone to the final line within the space of a couple of pages.......
    But, of course, a cat would not have deigned to reveal anything of this to a mere human (and would probably have taken an elegant bath, before being distracted by a mouse - or a leaf - or a butterfly - or its own tail!)

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    1. Too funny because it is a hundred percent correct.

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    2. There is a wonderful cartoon called 'If Cats Could Talk' - which shows a cat staring silently at a man...

      Sherpa would be a terrible detective, wouldn't she? Always distracted by imaginary mice.

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  4. Nooooooooooooooo! Bob *has* to be a dog so he and Hastings can do their wonderful male bonding! Glad you liked this Simon - it's one of my favourites and has everything you could want from a Christie!

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    1. Heeehee! I tease, really... Hastings is adorable with the dog. But I shall never be won over to the side of dogs.

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  5. The doggy talk has always been commented on and rather derided in this Christie and I agree. Not one of her best but very good nevertheless. Do try Crooked House. It is not a Poirot or a Marple but one of her stand alone books and I love it!

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    1. I did read Crooked House a couple of months ago, actually (didn't review here, I don't think) - I agree, it's a very good one!

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  6. I must confess, I have never read an Agatha Christie novel. I am not a crime reader. However, I think I have watched any kind of tv adaptation, including this one. Maybe it's time to start one of her books. What do you think?

    Marianne from Let's Read

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    1. Ah, but reading Agatha Christie is not like reading crime - it's so innocuous and pleasant, somehow! (Well, some are very creepy, but for the most part they are puzzles, and not gory or anything.)

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  7. I love this book when I read it years ago bob sound such a fun and clever dog at times ,all the best stu

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    1. I got the sense that Bob was Agatha's favourite character!

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  8. Good old Bob! Am glad you enjoyed the book, Simon. It's been a while since I read it, but what other book could I have bought for you?

    I shan't rise to the bait about how the book would have been better had it featured a cat.

    Now if only I could get you to appreciate Tommy and Tuppence.

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    1. Thanks again for getting this for me, Fiona :) It really was perfect, considering our ongoing 'battles'! Now I need to find a good cat book to suggest in return...

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  9. I like Agatha Christa very much. I'm just watching the 12 Miss Marple adventures with great Joan Hickson as Miss Marple.
    Although I adore Margareth Rutherford as Miss Marple Joan Hickson does a perfect job. By the way I recently saw a very interesting Margareth Rutherford documentary on ARTE.

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  10. I love Agatha Christie's books, especially those with Poirot and Hastings. I'm not a big fan of crime stories, I just like to see how all those details put together to form a meaningful whole.

    Christie attaches great importance to habits and details of everyday life. In this way it's even similar to 'Amelie'(movie by JP Jeunet).

    I really enjoy reading your blog, by the way!

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  11. Anyone who has read this book, go to the end of chapter 2 and read the last few sentences spoken by Mr. Tanios. I can not see how there can be any explanation for what he says, considering who the murderer turned out to be.

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