Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: Dumb Witness (1937)

The dog did it!

Just kidding. Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness tells the story of a wealthy person surrounded by money-strapped relatives, as per formula. Emily Arundell, a no-nonsense Victorian lady, falls down the stairs while said relations are visiting, and then a few weeks later dies of “natural causes.”

But—twist!—she writes a letter to the mustachioed Belgian, Hercule Poirot, vaguely hinting at her suspicions, and naturally Poirot must investigate. Alas, the client is deceased, and so Poirot must make his inquiries directly to the suspects: (1) Charles, the amoral yet charming nephew; (2) his sister Theresa, the beautiful and self-indulgent socialite, (3) her dry and precise fiancĂ©, Dr. Rex Donaldson, (4) cousin Bella, a devoted mother who desperately tries to copy Theresa’s style, (5) her genial Greek (omg! foreigner!) husband, Dr. Jacob Tanios, and (6) Minnie Lawson, Emily’s companion who inherited the bulk of the estate.

Or, perhaps the dog, Bob, is secretly taking orders from our cat overlords, and offed his human for their amusement!

Dumb Witness only takes a few hours to read and is enjoyable because it drops just enough hints to keep the reader engaged in the mystery, but also sneaks in some misdirection to help keep us guessing until the final reveal. The characters are well developed, especially Emily Arundell, whose death propels the plot. She's a fierce woman of the old school who tsk-tsks at the decay of the younger generation, because that is what the Olds do.

The book also offers plenty of one-liners by Poirot and his partner-in-crime-solving, Captain Hastings—usually around Poirot’s accent, ridiculous moustache, or his tortuous refusal to be straightforward about his conclusions.

The best part is, this detective fiction story avoids the frustrating, out-of-nowhere twist that makes everything clear, like, “The gardener with job-related access to poison was a sikrot relative all along!” I’m looking accusingly at you, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Bottom line: A pleasurable diversion! Recommended!

This post brought to you by an unlabeled Chinese pastry with mysterious filling that tasted of chalky apathy.