I borrowed The Hound of Death by Agatha Christie from the library. It’s a collection of twelve short stories, stories of unexplained phenomena, in most cases tales of the supernatural rather than detective stories.
Of the twelve stories I think The Witness for the Prosecution is the best. Agatha Christie later wrote a play based on this story which has subsequently been adapted for film and television. It’s the story of Leonard Vole, a young man who has been arrested for the murder of an elderly lady, Miss Emily French. He befriended this rich lonely old woman who left him everything in her will. He protests his innocence and is astounded when Romaine (who lives with him as his wife) refuses to back up his story at the trial. It is up to his lawyer Mr Mayherne to get to the truth.
I also liked the more supernatural stories – those with no explanation and those where the supernatural either have natural, scientific explanations or are plain con tricks. The narrator in The Hound of Death is unsure of how to view the events during the First World War where a Belgian nun, Sister Marie Angelique is said to have caused her convent to explode when it was invaded by German soldiers. He reflects:
But of course it is all nonsense! Everything can be accounted for quite naturally. That doctor believed in Sister Marie Angelique’s hallucinations merely proves that his mind too, was slightly unbalanced.
Yet sometimes I dream of a continent under the seas where men once lived and attained to a degree of civilization far ahead of ours …
… Nonsense – of course the whole thing was merely hallucination! (p36)
There are stories of premonitions, intuition or a sixth sense, stories of seances, haunted houses, nightmares, amnesia and a very strange tale The Call of Wings in which a millionaire hears a tune, played by man with no legs.
It was a strange tune – strictly speaking, it was not a tune at all, but a single phrase, not unlike the slow turn given out by the violins of Rienzi, repeated again and again, passing from key to key, from harmony to harmony, but always rising and attaining each time to a greater and more boundless freedom. (p269)
The music makes him feel he is being released from all his burdens as he is carried higher and higher. This story, with its mystical overtones reveals the power of music to transport the soul.
Years ago I read as many of Agatha Christie’s books as I could find, but they were all the detective stories – Poirot or Miss Marple. I was unaware that she wrote anything else, so these collections of short stories are a bonus for me. She really was a superb storyteller.
This year’s Agatha Christie Week is being celebrated at The Southbank Centre in September and on the English Riveria too, along with new radio productions and publications of previously unpublished stories – see the Agatha Christie website.