Agatha Christie dedicated this novel to her dog Peter with the following words:
To dear Peter,
Most faithful of friends
and dearest of companions,
a dog in a thousand
This dedication is not without relevance as one of the most important ‘characters’ in Dumb Witness will turn out to be a dog.
In the novel Belgian detective Hercule Poirot receives a rather frantic and seemingly confused letter from a Miss Emily Arundell residing in the small village of Market Basing. The letter is postmarked two months prior and is somewhat rambling in it’s execution. In the letter Emily mentions the “incident of the dog’s ball” which seems neither illuminating nor helpful in context with the rest of the letter. Poirot’s friend and general confidante Captain Hastings finds nothing significant in the letter, but Poirot is convinced that Miss Arundell is afraid for her life. Poirot and Hastings immediately leave London for the little village only to discover that the elderly Miss Arundell has passed away.
At Littlegreen House where Arundell once resided it turns out that the elderly woman passed away two months prior from supposedly ‘natural causes’. A Miss Minnie Lawson Arundell’s personal companion has inherited the entire estate (of which it was quite extensive), and is in the midst of selling the house where her mistress lived and died. Apart from Lawson the only souls to inhabit the house are the remaining servants and a dog called Bob who was Emily’s dear pet. Before she died Emily had invited her nieces and nephews to visit her over the Easter Weekend, and it was during this visit that she suffered a terrible fall down her stairs. The fall, in which she suffered only mild bruising, was blamed on Bob the dog’s ball that he was prone to leaving on the top of the stairs. After the fall and whilst she was recuperating Miss Arundell changed her will in favor of her companion Lawson, leaving her remaining family with nothing. Two months after the fall she will die peacefully in her bed, and no one sans Poirot will find this distinctly odd at all.
Determined to help his now deceased client Poirot systematically goes about interrogating the family members that were present at Littlegreen when Emily fell down the stairs. Charles Arundell, her nephew is a charming man prone to petty theft and Theresa Arundell his sister has never worked a day in her life and has become accustomed to a very lavish lifestyle. Theresa is engaged to a Dr. Donaldson who was not present that particular weekend. Bella Tanios and her husband Dr. Tanios were also present at her aunt’s home that weekend. Bella is rather meek and perhaps a little dim-witted, whilst her husband is considered controlling by the rest of the family he married into. Every single family member seems to be suspicious in their own way, and yet none of them would have benefited from Emily Arundell’s death other than the dedicated Miss Lawson, whose belief in spiritualism and psychics was never shared by her former mistress.
As Poirot and Hastings explore the small village visiting chemists, psychics and local gossips, Christie’s sense of humor and expert sense of character is showcased brilliantly in Dumb Witness. Miss Peabody in particular is a brilliant character, and the witty banter between Poirot and Hastings lends an intelligence to the many interrogations that take place with a very eclectic assortment of people. Seemingly as with all of Christie’s works Poirot will come to a conclusion that will baffle the most ardent of mystery readers, and yet her famous detective as per usual will reveal just how easily taken in we are by a person’s character, and despite how they may first appear there is always something else lurking on the periphery.
By far one of the most charming of Christie’s that I have so far read Dumb Witness stands out among its predecessors particularly due to its humor, emphasis on country village life and the heart-warming life of a woman who very possibly was convinced that the family she cared deeply for wanted her dead.