Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie: a Book Review

I found it wasn’t too difficult to work out who the murderer was in Agatha  Christie’s Dumb Witness, because there is a rather obvious clue at one point, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this book. In fact I felt it added to my satisfaction and there was a further development which I hadn’t thought of at the end, which surprised me.

From the back cover:

Everyone blamed Emily’s accident on a rubber ball left on the stairs by her frisky terrier. But the more she thought about her fall, the more convinced she became that one of her relatives was trying to kill her. On April 17th she wrote her suspicions in a letter to Hercule Poirot. Mysteriously he didn’t receive the letter until June 28th … by which time Emily was already dead!

Dumb Witness is set in the small country town of Market Basing (a fictional name) where Miss Emily Arundell lived in Littlegreen House. Part of Poirot’s problem is that he doesn’t actually have a murder to investigate because Miss Arundell’s death was certified by her doctor as a death from natural causes from a long standing medical condition. But he thought he was under an obligation from Miss Arundell to investigate. He uses subterfuge to find out more information, pretending to be writing a biography of General Arundell, Emily’s father. And from some very slender facts he reconstructs the sequence of events leading up to her death.

As usual there are a number of suspects, mostly the members of her family, her nephew and niece Charles and Theresa Arundell and her married niece Bella and her husband Doctor Tanios. Then there is her companion, the rather ineffectual Miss Wilhelmina Lawson, and the servants. Poirot considers each one in turn. He also considers the character of the murderer, as he explains to Captain Hastings, the narrator, who is completely baffled as he assists Poirot in looking at the evidence:

‘Since at the moment, it is only suspicion and there is no definite proof, I think I must leave you to draw your own deductions, Hastings. And do not neglect the psychology – that is important. The character of the murderer – that is an essential clue to the crime.’

‘I can’t consider the character of the murderer if I don’t know who the murderer is!’

‘No, no, you have not paid attention to what I have just said. If you reflect sufficiently on the character – the necessary character of the murder – then you will realize who the murderer is!’ (page 184)

The ‘dumb witness’of the title is Bob, Emily’s wire-haired terrier in what is described as ‘the incident of the dog’s ball.’ Agatha Christie dedicated Dumb Witness to her wire-haired terrier, Peter, describing him as ‘most faithful of friends and dearest companion, a dog in a thousand‘. Bob plays an important part in the plot and indeed Agatha Christie gives him some dialogue!

I didn’t think I knew anything about Dumb Witness before I read it – I didn’t even know the title. But after I read it I checked the entry in wikipedia and found that Dumb Witness  had been adapted for television in 1996 as one of the episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot with David Suchet playing the role of Hercule Poirot. I then remembered watching it and being surprised because it was set in the Lake District, which I thought was most unusual for an Agatha Christie book.  Now I’ve read the book I can see that the TV adaptation differed considerably from the original story. As I hadn’t read it when I watched the adaptation that didn’t bother me in the slightest. It would have done the other way round!

NB: take care reading because if you haven’t read earlier books featuring Poirot, in chapter 18 he gives away the names of the murderers in four of his earlier cases.

First published in Great Britain in 1937
published in the US as Poirot Loses a Client, also known as Mystery at Littlegreen House or Murder at Little Green House.
This edition published by Harper Collins 1994
ISBN: 9780006168089
251 pages
Source: My own copy

4 thoughts on “Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie: a Book Review”

  1. Margaret – Thanks for this well-done review of a good novel. There are some really interesting characters in this story. For instance, I found Theresa Arundell a more sympathetic character than I thought she would be. And the Misses Tripp are memorable. So is Miss Peabody.

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  2. Thanks for warning readers about the spoilers, Margaret. It’s incredible that Christie was so modest that she didn’t think anyone would want to go back to her earlier books!

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