Sad to say, Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness is the worst Christie I’ve read. On the plus side, even a bad Christie is still nice and escapist. But Dumb Witness is boring and too long for the premise—it would have been much better as a short story.
Emily Arundell is an older, wealthy lady who is as feisty as she is frugal. One night she falls down the stairs, and not long after dies of liver failure. She leaves all her money to her hapless companion, Miss Lawson, much to the outrage of her ne’er do well relatives. Poirot and his companion Hastings are drawn into the case after they receive a letter from Emily asking for Poirot’s help with an undisclosed matter. Mysteriously, Poirot does not receive the letter until months after her death, so he travels to Emily’s village to investigate.
Most of the chapters are divided by suspect, which makes learning about the characters a grim march. The list of suspects is also very small, which adds to the listless pace. The characters are indistinguishable from other common Christie characters (The Rogue, The Vamp, The Befuddled Doctor). The crime is lackluster. Christie seems heartily sick of Poirot. I didn’t care about the ending.
Poirot’s companion, Hastings is particularly dumb in this book, which Christie doesn’t hesitate to highlight:
“You know, Poirot, I don’t quite understand all this.”
“If you will pardon my saying so, Hastings, you do not understand at all!”
“Poirot,” I said humbly. “I’m getting rather muddled. They’re not all in it, are they?”
“But—oh, I see—no, I don’t. Or do I begin to see what you are hinting at…?”
“I doubt it!” said Poirot.
Plus his astonishment at Poirot’s correctness, despite zillions of cases where Hastings is inevitably dead wrong:
“I had, up to now, been a little sceptical over Poirot’s (as I thought) somewhat fanciful reconstruction of the events on the night of Easter Tuesday. I was forced to admit, however, that his deductions were perfectly logical.”
Hastings also has a bizarre relationship with a talking dog.
A rare misstep by the Grand Dame of Mystery.