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==Synopsis of the book:==
Miss Arundell was an elderly lady with lots of money a keen brain before she died. In the weeks leading up to her death an accident happened that made her very uneasy and call on the services of the brilliant Belgium Detective Hercule Poirot. Because she did not believe it was just an accident. However by the time the letter finally reaches him nearly two months later the lady has already passed away believed by all involved as a natural death except of course Poirot.
As Miss Arundell has various Nieces and a Nephew who very badly need money and are prepared to do anything it seems to get there hands of their Aunt's money. Poirot and Captain Hastings will investigate, as this usually shrewd lady just days before her death changed her will. Instead of giving it to her family she choose to give it to her companion Miss Lawson, who had only been with her just over a year and was not considered to be particularly close to the dead lady. There is evil and wrong doing afoot but what actually happened in those last few weeks before she died? Poirot must find the answers and solve this unusual mystery.
==My thoughts on this novel:==
I thought this was a first class crime thriller. This comes as no surprise to me as I think I have enjoyed reading the whole 39 novels in the Hercule Poirot series. And despite being written back in 1937 I find there's a real quality in both the plot and the resolution to it that is timeless. Indeed I like going back in time with these stories and I find it always interesting to see what life was like for our Grand parents time. Especially as the lead Detective is for unusual and in my opinion the best and most unique Detective of all time.
A lot of the quality in this series of books is the quite simple style of the authors writing but beneath this is a very intelligent writer who has an amazing ability to tell a fascinating story. There are always so many unexpected twists and turns it is practically impossible to deduce the guilty party early in the story. I do not know of another thriller writer can turn what you believe on its head so effectively and make the most innocent character a ruthless killer.
I first read this story at least 15 years ago, but fortunately I could not remember much about it so I could treat like a new book. The first thing that intrigued me was the unusual title and I wondered what was meant by it. I flipped it over to read the short summary, I would have liked a longer one but within it it really captured my imagination and made me want to read all about Miss Arundell's accident.
The story began advising us about the death of this elderly lady, this was chapter 1 but for my money should have been an epilogue as we then went back in time to the incidents before her death involving her family. Despite this I found the story very easy to get into and enjoyed the way her family all seemed desperate for some of her money and it made you wonder what lengths they would actually go to.
I like the way it developed and the way the letter from the dead lady arrived a long time after it was written, this was the first mystery and one Poirot needed to have answered. It was expertly written but I little predictable as although Miss Arundell was supposed to have died of natural causes it was obviously not going to be the case. But even though you know this and that there will be the unexpected twists in the storyline you can't fail to be impressed by Poirot skill and the clever way the case develops.
I never felt I knew the answer to the mystery and I required the Detective to explain it to me as it developed but he never did he just shared a few ideas and tried to lead both the reader and Captain Hastings to his solution. The story developed well at a very good pace that was always headed in an unexpected avenue. With a conclusion that was classic Christie that revealed all and explained everything that had happened, so that you where left satisfied with the ingenious answers to the mystery.
For me the quality aspect that made this different from other Poirot novels was the excellent support characters. As a result I found I wanted to know more about them as they were all so different but shared evil within their souls and you knew you could never trust them. The author had a magnificent way of sharing only so much about them so that there was plenty of information both about their histories or their characters that we did not know. The interaction and the way the presented themselves to Poirot was clever and I always enjoyed the way he managed to wheedle information out of them, so that even in the most innocent of answers could be significant.
There is not much I feel I need to say about the star Detective Hercule Poirot. He always manages to impress me with his sharp and very keen thought process that manages to attract the truth from the cleverest suspects. And although he sometimes annoys me because he is so particular and his matter of fact way of doing things he always turns up trumps. His relationship with Captain Hastings is always amusing and while these stories do not really deal with either men's personal life that in itself adds a little of an air of mystery about them.
The author is for me excellent at creating suspense within the story and then maintaining it throughout. This really makes you think and want to know the solution to it. Plus it makes you through Poirot sharp mind consider whether other tragedies could happen along the stories path.
I really think this story stands the test of time, like most of this collection. As despite this being a different time with servants and position in society being important to people, I found a classic cleverly written Detective story was still very enjoyable and thought provoking. I found I could both understand the characters perspectives and relate to Poirot interest in solving the mystery and bringing the guilty party to account.
To enjoy this story it is not necessary to have read any of these previous books in the series as there is very little about Poirot or Hastings private lives. It could be the first or the last you read in the series, as they are all self contained stories that focus on the crime not the investigating Detectives.
I thought this was a very good and enjoyable crime thriller. It was wonderfully well written and I found I was engrossed in a cleverly thought out story. With fascinating characters this timeless story is as relevant today as when the author first wrote it all those years ago.
Thanks for reading my review!!
This review is published on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my user name.
CPT Daniels June 2011.
Emily Arundel is a shrewd woman who is prepared to believe the worst of everybody and everything and, consequently, when several of her relatives all visit her in April she harbours no illusions that they are doing so purely out of a familial affection towards her. The motive in almost every, if not every, case is that of money. Emily is wealthy and her nephew and nieces and associated partners stand to inherit a fair amount of income when she dies. Attempts to gain some of this money prior to her death are swiftly rebuffed by her and she refuses to entertain the concept of yielding to any wishes, even when it is suggested not to do so might place her in grave danger. Confident in her ability to take care of herself it is thus a great shock when she trips and falls down the stairs one night. The reason for this seem straightforward enough, a ball belonging to her dog is found by her nephew on the top step. Yet Emily herself is not convinced and writes a letter to Poirot asking if he can help her with what she feels is a highly delicate situation. Poirot receives the letter and his curiosity is immediately awoken, not so much by the contents of it, but rather by the date. For though the letter was written in April it is now June and there seems to be no reason why there should be a delay of over two months. Intrigued by this, he persuades Hastings to accompany him to the village of Market Basing, where Emily is from. Upon reaching the village they are met with the news that the woman has died, the reason for her demise being put down to liver failure, since she suffered from liver problems. Moreover, those relatives whobelieved they would gain fro mher death are disappointed to find that the money has been bequeathed to Emily's companion, an ineffectual woman named Miss Lawson. The matter seems concluded, but Poirot remains unconvinced. With his usual tenacity he sets about questioning people and uncovering facts until the plain truth is revealed. Emily Arundel has been murderered, but with several people who all had both the means and motive around to have committed the act, discovering the identity of the killer will not be an easy one.
"Dumb Witness" is a curious amalgamation, a mixture of a very intriguing detective story and a rather whimsical portrayal of the psychology and thoughts of the eponymous character within it. The witness, of course, is the terrier whose ball was supposedly left upon the stairs that resulted in Emily Arundel falling down them and the accounts of his thoughts (or, rather, the thoughts which Hastings interprets for him) are relatively amusing but do nothing to bring us further in our search for the murderer. Instead they allow us to observe another aspect of Hastings's personality beyond that of naive and trusting friend to Poirot. Whilst that detective might have the better insight into the minds of people, Hastings is superior in his knowledge of canines and quickly establishes himself as more of a "dog person" than his associate. Bob, the terrier, is really nothing more than a gimmick in the story, a way of attempting to explain some early matters and of providing the reader with some pleasant scenes, but, being frank, the story could easily have been written without a great deal of the scenes which feature him.
Poirot's involvement in this mystery is slightly unusual as he is employed purely on the basis of a letter written to him by Emily, who then dies before he can receive it. He therefore makes the decision to employ a fair amount of deception, at least with some of the other characters, in order to gain more information. The success of the stories he weaves depends entirely on the susceptibility and willingness of others to believe him and we can see how various people react to the differing stories he tells them. Amusement, credulity and eventual anger upon discovery of the truth all effect numerous people within the story and present us with an insight into the differing personalities. Miss Peabody, for example, is an old friend of Emily Arundel's and of a similar temperament and this is revealed in the way she swiftly sees through Poirot's act but decides to say nothing outright to him about it, amusing herself only in a couple of seemingly innocent remarks that nevertheless make it clear to everyone she knows Poirot is not being straight with her. To the Misses Tripp, spiritualist friends of Miss Lawson, Emily's death and Poirot's questions seem all perfectly natural and their unquestioning nature in terms of this and their beliefs is portrayed in tones of clear ridicule. It is unclear from her fictional works where Christie's own views on the occult lay, whilst the majority of her stories veer towards scepticism she did write the supernatural collection of tales headed by "The Hound of Death". In this case, however, the inference is that the Misses Tripp are gullible and far too trusting to take everything at face value, a point which becomes useful later on. The deception which Poirot employs also serves to remind us of the contrast between him and Hastings, who is appalled at his friend's actions, which include eavesdropping. As has been made clear before, Hastings may refuse to act in such a way as he views it as "not the done thing", yet without Poirot using such methods the case would be far harder to solve. An ethical dilemma is therefore placed before us, we can strive for honesty at all times, or we can deviate from it in order to gain ourselves an advantage.
The murderer in this story is, in terms of Christie novels at least, rather different in the sense that they do not appear to fit into a straight forward mould. The original method they were prepared to use to kill Emily is the one they eventually put into practise and it is this which has been planned so carefully and with every factor taken into account that, had that and only that attempt been used it is doubtful the case would ever have aroused suspicion. Yet, almost on a whim it seems, they make the decision to adopt a far cruder method and one which result in suspicions being raised first on the part of Emily Arundel and then on that of Poirot. It is evident, of course, that they presume that Emily will die from her fall down the stairs, yet for someone who is very careful to get the details of their eventual murder correct, it almost seems incomprehensible that they should temporarily abandon it in favour of a more risky venture. It does ensure that the reason for Poirot being on the case can be given, yet it goes so far away from the psychology of the killer that we may conclude Christie needed to find a semi plausible reason for the investigation taking place. What is evident is that they are completely manipulative and completely ruthless, with the ability to fool almost everyone within the narration. That they should eventually be revealed due to an oversight on their part is again rather puzzling, but does lead us towards their identity.
Within this novel there is a wide variety of personalities, many of whom can be found to have parallels within other Christie workss. Miss Lawson, for example, might be replaced easily with the character of Dora Bunner in "A Murder is Announced", the insipid nature of Bella Tanios can be compared with Kait in "Death Comes as the End" and Charles Arundel has clear parallels with Lancelot Fortescue in "A Pocketful of Rye". This is not to say, of course, that the personalities are all completely interchangeable, Christie does provide us with some differences to ensure that the murderer remains hopefully unknown until the narrative has progressed a bit. However, as with many of her novels the differing aspects of various family members are clearly indicated, revealing that whilst blood may tie them together, there is plenty to separate them.
To conclude, this is an enjoyable story that fails to live up to the more interesting of Christie's works due to several either unnecessary or unbelievable aspects inserted into it. Whilst, of course, we must expect to suspend a certain level of belief when reading these mysteries, it is difficult to do so when a character acts out of well, character in order to help the plot along. This is not a terrible novel, on the contrary it definitely merits reading, but it is simply not powerful enough to count as one of her classics.
A facsimile first edition hardback of the Poirot book, famously featuring Agatha Christie's own dog on the 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! To mark the 80th anniversary of Hercule Poirot's first appearance, and to celebrate his renewed fortunes as a primetime television star, this title in a collection of facsimile first editions is the perfect way to experience Agatha Christie. Reproducing the original typesetting and format of the first edition from the Christie family's own archive, this book sports the original cover which has been painstakingly restored to its original glory.