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Within these collection of short stories Christie, in at least some of the narratives, removes her usual pragmatism and supposed scepticism of the occult and leads the reader on a truly chilling and awe inspiring journey through the supernatural. Combining tales which appear to be firm advocates of "the other world", those which could be compared to "The Blue Geranium" or "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" in that any mysterious events turn out to have a rational explanation and those in which the conclusion regarding the possibility of the occult is left to the reader's decision, this work opens our eyes to another side of Christie which is often far removed from her more conventional pieces. Throughout each story the brevity of them does not detract from some truly stunning, thought provoking and occasionally genuinely frightening plots.
One of the themes which recurs throughout this set of stories is the concept of the means in which the human mind might influence a person's behaviour and the effect that this will have upon those around them. The line between rational explanations and an ethereal presence acting to enforce a particular chain of events is, in some of the stories, very difficult to distinguish. Subconscious, areas of the brain which have not yet been fully realised and other psychological aspects are brought into question in narratives such as "The Hound of Death", "The Fourth Man" and " The Red Signal", allowing us to debate whether the supernatural facets of these tales are to be taken at face value, or whether we can consider a more logical explanation. We can also not ignore the probable influence of legends such as the Barguest or Padfoot upon "The Hound of Death" and thus whilst this ensures that eponymous tale is not truly original, that does not mar it. Moreover, these stories allow us an interesting insight into the changing patterns of attitudes and diagnoses to mental health over the decades. Written in the early 1930s the numerous refererences to doctors referring to their patients openly as "mad" or "insane" seems inconceivable now. It is not that the doctors within the stories appear callous or unconcerned, just that there is little attempt by them to go beyond any other terminology, with the exception of the odd reference to mania. This is particularly noticeable within "The Red Signal". Of course a large part of this could be Christie's own ignorance and certaintly they are not written as an indepth and accurate analysis of neurological or psychological states of mind, but they do ensure that the relevant stories are set very firmly in the decade they were written.
Ironically, perhaps, given the overall suggested theme of these stories, it is within those tales of a more pragmatic nature that we find some of Christie's greatest works. "Witness for the Prosecution", for example, is absolutely stunning in its denouement and establishes itself as one of her greatest pieces. Since at no time that story ever suggests a supernatural element I can see no harm in mentioning it as being devoid of this aspect, however, there are at least two other stories in which the occult suggestion turns out to be false. Within these other stories Christie once more reveals her talents, providing us with an insight into the desperate or arrogant measures some people will go to to achieve their aims. In both the stories the belief in, for one of a better term, matters beyond the grave, are deliberately caused by the power of suggestion by a person with an ulterior motive and it is done so convincingly that until the final moments, we may readily accept these stories to be grouped with those of a definite supernatural aspect. Since it is these narratives in which Christie seems to be at her strongest and most convincing, we may speculate that she was fairly cynical of the occult and would ultimately look for a more rational explanation. As I know very little of Christie herself this may well turn out to be an erroneous assumption, but nevertheless it is the non occult based narratives which are the better ones.
There are, as has been stated already, a number of stories within "The Hound of Death" in which the prospect of the unexplained, the mysterious is left in little doubt. "The Strange Case of Arthur Carmichael" and "The Lamp" are two such examples, the latter being particularly striking in its pathos and its bittersweet finale, a remarkable accomplishment considering its shortness. Whilst these do not measure up to some of the other tales like "Witness for the Prosecution" nevertheless they do merit reading and can not be dismissed. Indeed, in some ways they are powerful simply due to the fact that Christie has disposed of her usual scepticism and thus we are caught off our guard when we realise there is an "otherwordly" conclusion to them. We are used to Poirot, for example, using people's beliefs and superstitious fears in order to influence an outcome of a case - "The Tragedy of Marsden Manor" being one such example and this can also be seen at one point of "A Murder is Announced" and "The Idol House of Astarte" with Miss Marple (though her role in the latter is purely to explain) . Yet to read one of Christie's works in which there is a definite occult explanation is very rare indeed and is not repeated with the probable exception of "The Mysterious Mr Quin" and possibly "Accident", "The DressMakers Doll" and "In a Glass Darkly". Within these stories Christie has been able to present us with some truly spine chilling passages which result in them remaining within our imagination long after they have been read. The anticipation and climax of "The Last Seance", for example, is very powerful, as is "The Call of Wings", albeit for very different reasons. Indeed, "The Call of Wings" in many ways appears so frightening in places precisely because much of it is set in places which should normally be rather mundane. If the scenes are suggestive of an eerie atmosphere then when that state occurs we are almost prepared for it. Faced, however, with the appearance of everyday normality being turned on its head the effects are far more impressive. "The Call of Wings" is, in many ways, a very visual story, one which would translate well to a "Twilight Zone" or similar episode.
Although Christie has created a collection of tales which, for the most part, are testament to her abilities as a creative writer, there are parts which must be negatively criticised. In at least a couple of the stories the conclusion of them appears almost disappointing, as though the majority of effort had gone into the main body of the story and little was left for the remaining paragraphs. The conclusion of "SOS" is one such disappointing example, whilst it does clearly end it appears weak and unbelievable. Since the rest of the plot is admirable it may be that we can disregard the last parts of it, but personally as it is that which I remembered most strongly it is difficult to do.
To conclude, "The Hound of Death" is often an unusual and highly enjoyable move into a genre quite rare for Christie. As each story is usually only a few pages long they are easy enough to read when you are in a hurry or desire nothing particularly taxing, yet, for the most part, this does not detract from their worth. Whilst many of them are dated due to various linguistical terms or simply due to events which could not happen now, they are still as interesting as when they were first written.
A collection of Agatha Christie's stories of the macabre and the occult, where a message from beyond the grave unmasks an insane killer, and a nun has the power to cause a landslide -- all bound in a cover designed to compliment the striking new Christie livery. Twelve unexplained phenomena with no apparent earthly explanation! A dog-shaped gunpowder mark; an omen from 'the other side'; a haunted house; a chilling seance; a case of split personalities; a recurring nightmare; an eerie wireless message; an elderly lady's hold over a young man; a disembodied cry of 'murder'; a young man's sudden amnesia; a levitation experience; a mysterious SOS. To discover the answers, delve into the supernatural storytelling of Agatha Christie.