First Published: Poirot Loses A Client published in 1937.
I Read: Dumb Witness
Summary: Emily Arundell has a lovely dog named Bob who loves to play ball on the stairs. Bob’s human, Emily, has a habit of knocking around her house at night while the world is asleep. This turns into an unfortunate pairing when Bob’s ball trips the elderly Emily, giving her a bad tumble down the stairs. An accident, an odd collusion of events which sometimes happens. This is what her visiting relatives chose to believe, but Emily is not so sure. She sends a letter to Poirot asking him for his discreet help in trying to figure out if her family is really trying to killer her for her fortune.
The only problem? Poirot receives the letter weeks after it is written and Emily is already buried in the churchyard. However the lack of a living client doesn’t stop the little grey cells from pursuing the case!
Review: While not my absolute favorite book in the Poirot series, I think this book attains the pot roast level in her canon. An easy favorite of many, gives a pleasant read to most and very few faults to be found in the narrative. Perhaps the first few chapters of the book feel a bit superfluous to me, as in if they were omitted the book may be stronger for it, but ultimately I think they do no harm to the overall book. They just add a bit of length, a small criticism and one I know not everyone will agree with! But such is life.
One interesting bit of the book happens before the mystery ever starts! Christie dedicated this particular book to her dog Peter, “...most faithful of friends and dearest of companions, a dog in a thousand”. Going a bit further with this theme Christie placed a pooch in the cast of characters (not in the list of murder suspects mind you. I have only ever seen a canine murderer once, in a short story by Jan Burke). Bob speaks his own mind (though the humans don’t understand of course) on the events in the household and his guard duties. Christie uses a deft hand in creating Bob the terrier who is neither to cute nor out of place in the story (Bob reminds my of Monsieur Pamplemousse’s Pomme Frites and his observations & interjections in their stories, without the crime solving streak) Bob provides an element of fun to the story which keeps the book light and fresh.
Good news everyone! Beyond containing a four legged character, this book was the second to last mystery featuring Captain Arthur Hastings as Poirot’s foil! Hasting’s last appearance is in Curtain, written two years-ish after this installment (according to legend). Which I think is a bit interesting as there are 19 more full length Poirot mysteries (45 total mysteries if you count all the non-Poirot’s: excluding short stories & plays) after Dumb Witness, meaning Christie didn’t write about Hastings for the last thirty-five years (ish) of her lengthy career. Which make me wonder, we know she detested Poirot from early on but this gap make me curious about how fond she was of Hastings...
Now for something completely different.
This quote is something I think I need to address, “...old people are inclined to hoard a little, I’m afraid -- dear Miss Arundel was no exception....astonishing, you know, the things people collect...two dozen needle books...” (pg. 235) I prefer to think of Emily Arundel not as a hoarder but as a crafter. There is a distinct and subtle difference I assure you (I am not sure my husband would quite agree). What knitter, crocheter, sewer, scrap booker, quilter or needle pointer (can’t list every craft out there, that would be my entire post and someone would still tell me I forgot one) doesn’t have a stash of extra supplies waiting for a rainy day to work on? Or assembled the needed tools to start a similar hobby, but hasn’t quite gotten down to brass tacks and started to learn said new skill? I know I have. I have knitting needles, new wool yarn and several books all waiting for the day when I sit down and learn to knit. I crochet now. This isn’t hoarding, it is saving money in advance as I purchased the supplies at wonderful discounts. See I am being responsible!
So neither Emily nor I are hoarders; she and I just created a stash of supplies for future use! So maybe on occasion I have forgotten every detail of what is in the stash, but that makes organizing it that much more fun! It gives me a pleasant jolt when I find a wonderful treasure I’d forgotten that I’d purchased. It’s all most like Christmas on a random Thursday afternoon. Right?
“From time to time he had these lapses from virtue-- though his apologies afterwards were always all that could be desired.” (pg. 31)
“...if one is going to tell a lie at all, it might as well be an artistic lie, a romantic lie, a convincing lie!” (pg.97)
“Anyone who trusted you, my sweet, would be mentally deficient...” (pg. 148)
Interesting Facts: Every genre, it seems, has it’s own set of awards; serious fiction has the Man Booker Prize, picture books have the Caldecott Medal and mysteries have the Edgars. But did you know there is an award given every year for the best odd book title? The Diagram Prize is given out each year by a book publishing trade magazine based in London. Previous winning titles include, How To Poo On A Date, Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes (lol, I though this one had possibilities, maybe I will place it in my stash....), Bombproof Your Horse and Highlights In The History Of Concrete (the prize has been given out since 1978 so I can’t lists all the titles - well, I could but typing it would be a bit tedious).
Why am I talking about odd book titles? Well Dumb Witness had two other possible titles it could have been released as, Poirot Loses A Client (the original UK title) or The Incident Of The Dog's Ball (name of the short story this full length mystery was based on). But for some reason Dumb Witness (the US title) is the name which has stuck to this particular installment. I can’t figure out why. Of all the Poirot books I think the name Dumb Witness is the silliest one. I think the title is referring to Bob, Emily’s dog, but he had better sense than either Hastings or Emily’s paid companion Miss Lawson. I suppose the US title is not as odd as any of the winners of the Diagram Prize, but I don’t think it really fits the book either. I guess that’s why the title of this book bothers me, I think it does a disservice for the mystery it is describing to a potential reader.
I know that titles and book covers are not supposed to be what we judge books on, but they are important features. Because who among us has at one point or another read a book purely based on either one of these features? 'Fess up! I know I am not the only one! I have read both wonderful and dreadful titles based purely off one or both of these features without reading the back of the book first (I don’t do this often, but it has happened). So when I know there is a better book title out there for a novel, it bothers me a bit when it isn’t used. However this is subjective; as they say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so perhaps I shouldn’t judge quickly.
Cheating: Felt a slight itch to cheat with this one not really sure why, but I resisted temptation so all is still well!