#29 – Dumb Witness

Emily Arundell falls down the stairs during the night. Her family believes she tripped on a ball that her dog, Bob, had left on the landing but she is not so sure and writes to her solicitor and to Hercule Poirot.

Poirot receives her letter, dated 17th April, on 28th June, and this intrigues him sufficiently to drive out to Market Basing to investigate. He finds that Miss Arundell died shortly after her accident of natural causes, but not before she had disinherited her two nieces and nephew in favour of her live-in companion, Wilhelmina Lawson. Poirot is suspicious that her death followed so closely after her accident and soon finds evidence that it was attempted murder – but as Hastings says that doesn’t mean that she actually was murdered. But Poirot refuses to let sleeping dogs lie and follows the scent wherever it takes him.

This is a much better book than I remembered as I had thought it was all about the dog, but actually his role is minimal. The book begins with a third person narrative of the events leading up to the “accident” so the reader is ahead of Poirot for once. The strength of the book lies in the first half where we see how Poirot introduces himself to Miss Arundell’s acquaintances and relations under a variety of guises and leads them to talk about the things that interest him and which start to provide him with information to build up a case of possible murder.

Overall not top dog, but neither is it the runt of the litter.

Recurring character development

Hercule Poirot

Always drinks hot chocolate for breakfast and sorts his opened post into four (unspecified) categories.

Uses the name Parotti when meeting some of the characters in this story.

Carries a folding rule which he uses here to measure the width of a recess.

He tells the Misses Tripp that he has travelled much in the East but as far as Hastings is aware he has only been once during the few weeks covered by Murder on the Orient Express and Murder in Mesopotamia.

Arthur Hastings

Attended Eton College.

Signs of the Times

The story is explicitly set in 1936.

Although the vicar at Southbridge says there is no need to come fasting, Emily Arundell never takes anything before Early Service. Some Anglicans fast before taking communion. In some cases this can be from the previous midnight.

General Arundell had served during the Indian Mutiny. Taking place in 1857-58 this was an ultimately unsuccessful uprising against the ruling British East India Company.

Hastings has bought a second-hand Austin. Herbert Austin began his car manufacturing career with Wolseley before creating the Austin Motor Company in 1905. In 1952 it merged with Morris Motors with the marque being used until 1987.

Hastings refers to the “burden of his song”. This seems to mean a primary, sometimes recurring, meaning.

Miss Arundell was prescribed Valentine’s beef juice and Brand’s essence by Dr Grainger. The former was a health tonic created in the 1870s by an American, Mann S. Valentine II. He founded a museum in Richmond, Virginia, dedicated to the city’s history. They sell Valentine’s Meat Juice t-shirts and recommend them as a Valentine’s Day gift! The latter is a chicken consommé created in 1820 by Henderson William Brand, chef at Buckingham palace. It is still made today and according to the company’s website scientific studies have shown that consumption improves concentration and memory.

Miss Peabody refers to two types of sleeve: leg o’ mutton and Bishops. The former are puffy at the shoulder before tapering and fitting tightly from elbow to wrist. The latter seems to get wider as it goes down the arm before tapering at the wrist.

Amongst other things, the Misses Tripp are theosophists and British Israelites. Helena Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in New York City in 1875 before moving to India. Theosophy has doctrine but is not dogmatic. Adherents only have to commit to “forming a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour”. British Israelism believes that the people of Britain are the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel (that is those deported from Israel after the Assyrian conquest c. 722 BC).

Hastings imagines that the Misses Tripp have no sanitation except for “an E. G. in the garden”. I presume this is some sort of outside toilet but can’t verify that.

Hastings hums “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day”. This modern classical vocal music song was first recorded in 1934 by Elsie Carlisle and has been covered many times since by varying artists including Perry Como (1958) and Eric Clapton (2016).

Charles Arundell says that he did not eavesdrop as “they were very particular about eavesdropping at Borstal”. In 1895 the Gladstone Committee proposed a form of detention to separate juvenile offenders from adult prisoners. The first such institution was opened in the village of Borstal, near Rochester, Kent in 1902. The borstal system was abolished in the UK in 1982 and was replaced with youth custody centres.

Bella Tanios’ daughter draws a “beautiful picture of Mickey Mouse”. Walt Disney asked Ub Iwerks to create a new cartoon character in early 1928. This was to replace Oswald the Lucky Rabbit who had appeared in Disney cartoons but whose rights were owned by Universal Studios. Mickey (originally Mortimer) Mouse was the result. By 1936 he had appeared in a number of films and comic strips.

References to previous works

Poirot refers by name to four personable murderers though without naming the cases in which they appear. These are Death in the Clouds, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and The Mystery of the Blue Train.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Features no less than three doctors as significant characters so fulfils “Who – in the medical field”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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