A collection of short stories, almost all with a supernatural element, and mostly a supernatural explanation.
1. The Hound of Death – a doctor investigates whether a nun destroyed a convent full of German soldiers during the war using psychic powers.
2. The Red Signal – which of three men should heed the warning not to go home?
3. The Fourth Man – a discussion between a clergyman, doctor, and a lawyer is interrupted by a stranger who knows much more than they do.
4. The Gipsy – why is Dickie Carpenter so afraid of gypsies?
5. The Lamp – Mrs Lancaster takes a haunted house.
6. Wireless – due to a cardiac weakness Mrs Harter is advised to lead a quieter life so her nephew buys her a radio.
7. Witness for the Prosecution – a solicitor is concerned when his client’s alibi starts to unravel.
8. The Mystery of the Blue Jar – why does an unimaginative young man hear a cry for help at the same time every day?
9. The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael – or the Curious Incident of the Cat in the Night-Time.
10. The Call of Wings – a contented millionaire is shaken to the core by a road accident and its aftermath.
11. The Last Seance – is Elise right that someone will have to pay for her employer’s mediumistic activities?
12. SOS – is a message written in the dust from the past, present or future?
I might have read this before, but if so, none of the stories can have made that much of an impression upon me. A couple of the supernatural stories have quite creepy ideas behind them, but even in one of those it was obvious to me what was going on from very early on. One story benefits from being surrounded by the others as it does have a rational explanation but the reader has been conditioned to expect a supernatural solution.
The only possible saving grace is the inclusion of The Witness for the Prosecution, probably Christie’s best known short story as she later adapted it into a play, which was then filmed starring Marlene Dietrich, but it doesn’t belong in this collection in any way at all.
Unless you are a completist, give this one a miss and find The Witness for the Prosecution in a different collection.
Signs of the Times
“The Hound of Death” has several First World War references. Uhlans were German cavalrymen who were dismounted early in the war. German forces undoubtedly killed and displaced a significant number of Belgian citizens during their occupation, but these atrocity stories were greatly exaggerated by the British to encourage enlistment into the army. The British army won an important victory at Mons and rumours of angels assisting them started to spread after a short story featuring phantom archers from the fifteenth century battle of Agincourt was taken for truth.
Sir Alington West is an alienist (2). This is a now old fashioned name for a psychiatrist but is sometimes still used for those who determine whether a defendant is mentally competent to stand trial.
Jack Trent won the VC for saving Dermot West’s life (2). The Victoria Cross is the highest award of the British honours system given for acts of valour in the presence of the enemy. I had believed that most VCs were awarded posthumously but this is only true for 295 out of a total of 1,358. Three men have received a bar (a second award of the same honour) to their VC.
I was surprised by the use of Alistair as a woman’s name (4).
The lines quoted in “The Lamp” are from “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”.
The violins of Rienzi (10) refers to the 1842 opera by Richard Wagner.
Professor Roche is from the Salpêtrière (11). L’hôpital universitaire Pitié-Salpêtrière is a teaching hospital in Paris tracing its origins back to 1656.
Vintage Reading Challenge
Fulfils “What – an animal in the title”.