Dumb Witness

Dumb Witness
Dumb Witness  
Dumb Witness First Edition Cover 1937.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
Author(s) Agatha Christie
Cover artist Not known
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Crime novel
Publisher Collins Crime Club
Publication date July 5 1937
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 320 pp (first edition, hardcover)
Preceded by Murder in the Mews
Followed by Death on the Nile

Dumb Witness is a detective fiction novel by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on July 5 1937[1] and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year under the title of Poirot Loses a Client[2][3] . The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6)[4] and the US edition at $2.00.[3]

The book features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and is the second to last Poirot novel (the last being 1975's Curtain: Poirot's Last Case) to be published that features Hastings as narrator.

Dumb Witness was based on a short story entitled The Incident of the Dog's Ball. This short story was lost for many years but found by the authoress' daughter in a crate of her personal effects, in 2004.[5] The Incident of the Dog's Ball was published in Britain in September 2009 in John Curran's Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years Of Mysteries. The short story was also published by The Strand Magazine in their tenth anniversary issue.[6][7]



The story is set in Berkshire and centers on Emily Arundell, a woman of a considerable fortune who is surrounded by grasping young relatives. She is injured by falling down a staircase, and everyone believes that she tripped over a ball left by her pet fox terrier, Bob. Emily later dies of natural causes (or so it is believed), and her estate is unexpectedly left to her companion, Miss Lawson. A letter written before her death to Hercule Poirot is too late to save her life, but it puts Poirot on the trail of a murderer.

Plot summary

Emily Arundell writes to Hercule Poirot because she believes she has been the victim of attempted murder. However, unfortunately this letter is delayed and when Poirot receives it, she has been dead for some time. Her doctor, who has lost his sense of smell, says that she died of liver problems she had had for many years.

Emily's companion Miss Lawson is the unexpected beneficiary of a substantial fortune, according to a very recent change of will. Under the previous will, Emily's nephew Charles Arundell and nieces Theresa Arundell and Bella Tanios would have inherited. This gives them all motive for murder, because it is unclear who knew of the changed will.

While examining the house, under a pretence of buying it, Poirot discovers a nail covered with varnish and a small string tied to it. Before her death Miss Arundell had said something about Bob...dog...picture...ajar. Poirot concludes that this means a jar on which there is a picture of a dog who was left out all night—meaning that Bob could not have put the ball on the staircase because he had been out all night. Poirot concludes Miss Arundell had fallen over a tripwire that had been tied to the nail.

On the day of her death Emily had been at a seance held by both Miss Tripps. Both Miss Tripps, two sisters who believe in seances, say that when Emily spoke, a luminous figure came from her mouth. They also say that they saw Emily's "spirit" the night Emily died, billowing from her mouth in a halo around her head. Miss Lawson, who was also at the seance, similarly claims that a luminous haze appeared.

Theresa and Charles want to have the will contested and even offer to pay Poirot for it. Poirot seemingly agrees. He asks Bella, who, after talking with her husband, agrees. While at Emily's house Poirot talks to the gardener and finds out that Charles talked to him about his weed killer which turns out to be arsenic. The bottle is also nearly empty—something that the gardener finds surprising.

Theresa Arundell is a strong suspect because Miss Lawson can recall seeing someone through her bedroom mirror at the top of the stairs on the night of Emily's accident. The person was wearing a brooch with the initials, "TA".

After implying for a long time that he is bullying her, Bella leaves her husband, Jacob, accusing him of Emily Arundell's murder and saying he was trying to have her wrongly committed to a mental institution in order to keep her quiet. She goes to stay with Miss Lawson, but Poirot tells her to go to a certain hotel, and read some papers he has prepared for her. The next day, she is found dead. She has taken an overdose of a sleeping-draught. The murderer has apparently struck again.

Poirot discovers that Emily Arundell died of phosphorus poisoning, administered in her liver pills. The reason why haze appeared from her mouth was that her breath was phosphorescent. The reason her doctor did not know was because he could not smell the odour. The nature of the murder suggests a doctor. Dr. Donaldson, Theresa's fiancé, has a good motive for the crime, as does Jacob Tanios, also a doctor.

At a meeting with all the suspects, Poirot reveals that Theresa took the arsenic. However, she could not bear to take someone else's life, so she threw the arsenic away. The real murderer was Bella. She committed the murder for money to educate her children and escape from her mundane life. Secretly, she had grown to hate her domineering husband, and had already attempted to kill him as well. She killed herself because the papers Poirot had given her contained a description of how she had murdered her aunt. The brooch that Miss Lawson had seen through the mirror was Bella's with the initials "AT" for Arabella Tanios; they appeared as "TA" because Miss Lawson was looking through the mirror. On her deathbed, Emily had asked Miss Lawson for the new will, presumably to destroy it, but Miss Lawson, thinking the will was only for a few thousand pounds, lied and said that her lawyer had it. On discovering that the inheritance was much greater than she had imagined, she was racked with remorse.

Respecting the original will, Miss Lawson voluntarily shares the estate with Emily's other relations, including Bella's children. The dog Bob becomes Hastings' new pet.


  • Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective
  • Captain Hastings, narrator and Poirot's friend
  • Theresa Arundell, the victim's niece
  • Dr. Rex Donaldson, Theresa's fiancé
  • Charles Arundell, the victim's nephew
  • Bella Tanios, the victim's niece
  • Dr. Jacob Tanios, Bella's abusive husband
  • Ellen, a member of the victim's household staff
  • Wilhelmina Lawson, the victim's companion and heiress
  • The Sisters Tripp, two rather eccentric amateur spiritualists whose enthusiasm far outweighs their skill.

Literary significance and reception

John Davy Hayward in the Times Literary Supplement of July 10, 1937, whilst still approving of Christie's output, commented on some length at a what he felt was a central weakness of this book: "Who, in their senses, one feels, would use hammer and nails and varnish in the middle of the night within a few feet of an open door! – a door, moreover, that was deliberately left open at night for observation! And, incidentally, do ladies wear large broaches on their dressing gowns?" The review ended by saying that, "These are small but tantalizing points which it would not be worth raising in the work of a less distinguished writer than Mrs. Christie; but they are worth recording, if only as a measure of curiosity and interest with which one approaches her problems and attempts to anticipate their solution".[8]

In The New York Times Book Review for September 26, 1937, Kay Irvin said "Agatha Christie can be depended upon to tell a good tale. Even when she is not doing her most brilliant work she holds her reader's attention, leads them on from clue to clue, and from error to error, until they come up with a smash against surprise in the end. She is not doing her most brilliant work in Poirot Loses A Client, but she has produced a much-better-than-average thriller nevertheless, and her plot has novelty, as it has sound mechanism, intriguing character types, and ingenuity.[9]

In The Observer's issue of July 18, 1937, "Torquemada" (Edward Powys Mathers) said, "usually after reading a Poirot story the reviewer begins to scheme for space in which to deal with it adequately; but Dumb Witness, the least of all the Poirot books, does not have this effect on me, though my sincere admiration for Agatha Christie is almost notorious. Apart from a certain baldness of plot and crudeness of characterisation on which this author seemed to have outgrown years ago, and apart from the fact that her quite pleasing dog has no testimony to give either way concerning the real as opposed to the attempted murder, her latest book betrays two main defects. In the first place, on receiving a delayed letter from a dead old lady Poirot blindly follows a little grey hunch. In the second place, it is all very well for Hastings not to see the significance of the brooch in the mirror, but for Poirot to miss it for so long is almost an affront to the would-be worshipper. Still, better a bad Christie than a good average."[10]

The Scotsman of July 5, 1937 started off by saying, "In Agatha Christie's novel there is a minor question of construction which might be raised." The reviewer then went on to outline the set-up of the plot up to the point where Poirot receives Emily Arundell's letter and then said, "Why should the story not have begun at this point? M. Poirot reconstructs it from here and the reader would probably have got more enjoyment out of it if he had not had a hint of the position already. But the detection is good, and the reader has no ground for complaint, for the real clue is dangled before his eyes several times, and because it seems a normal feature of another phenomenon than poisoning that he tends to ignore it. For this Agatha Christie deserves full marks." [11]

E.R. Punshon of The Guardian began his review column of July 13, 1937 by an overview comparison of the books in question that week (in addition to Dumb Witness, I'll be Judge, I'll be Jury by Milward Kennedy, Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes, Dancers in Mourning by Margery Allingham and Careless Corpse by C. Daly King) when he said, "Only Mrs. Christie keeps closer to the old tradition, and this time she adds much doggy lore and a terrier so fascinating that even Poirot himself is nearly driven from the centre of the stage." In the review proper, he went on to say that the dedication of the novel to Peter was, "a fact that in this dog-worshipping country is enough of itself to ensure success." He observed that Poirot, "shows all of his usual acumen; Captain Hastings – happily once more at Poirot's side – more than all his usual stupidity, and there is nothing left for the critic but to offer his usual tribute of praise to another of Mrs. Christie's successes. She does indeed this sort of thing so superlatively well that one is ungratefully tempted to wish she would do something just a little well different, even if less well."[12]

In the Daily Mirror of July 8, 1937, Mary Dell said, "Once I had started reading, I did not have to rely on Bob or his cleverness to keep me interested. This is Agatha Christie at her best." She concluded, "Here's a book that will keep all thriller fans happy from page one to page three hundred and something."[13]

Robert Barnard: "Not quite vintage for the period: none of the relations of the dead woman is particularly interesting, and the major clue is very obvious. The doggy stuff is rather embarrassing, though done with affection and knowledge. At the end the dog is given to Hastings – or possibly vice versa."[14]

References to other works

  • Chapter 11: "Poirot's travellings in the East, as far as I knew, consisted of one journey to Syria extended to Iraq, and which occupied perhaps a few weeks". After solving a case in Syria by the request of his friend, Poirot decided to travel to Iraq before returning to England and, while in Iraq, was requested to solve a case, which he did and which is told in Christie's 1936 novel "Murder in Mesopotamia", after which Poirot returned to Syria and boarded Orient Express to return home and en route solved Murder on the Orient Express.
  • In chapter 18 of the novel, Poirot gives a list of murderers from previous cases of his, more precisely The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), Death in the Clouds (1935), The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928) and The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920).

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

Agatha Christie's Poirot

An adaptation of the novel appeared in 1996 as part of the television series Agatha Christie's Poirot starring David Suchet as Poirot. The film was set in England's Lake District and heavily differs from the original story. Charles Arundel is a motor-boat racer and a friend of Captain Hastings, his sister Theresa is changed from the spoiled, vain young girl in the novel to a middle-aged woman. Bella Tanios does not die in the end, and Emily Arundell actually meets Poirot before she is murdered. Also, it is Poirot who influences the change of Emily's will. The cast includes:

Graphic novel adaptation

Dumb Witness was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on July 6, 2009, adapted and illustrated by "Marek" (ISBN 0-00-729310-0).

Publication history

  • 1937, Collins Crime Club (London), July 5, 1937, Hardcover, 320 pp
  • 1938, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1937, Hardcover, 302 pp
  • 1945, Avon Books, Paperback, 260 pp (Avon number 70)
  • 1949, Pan Books, Paperback, 250 pp (Pan number 82)
  • 1958, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 255 pp
  • 1965, Dell Books, Paperback, 252 pp
  • 1969, Pan Books, Paperback, 218 pp
  • 1973, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 454 pp
  • 1975, Fontana Books, Paperback, 255 pp
  • 2007, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1937 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, January 3, 2007, Hardback, ISBN 0-00-723446-5

The book was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in seven instalments from November 7 (Volume 209, Number 19) to December 19, 1936 (Volume 209, Number 25) under the title Poirot Loses a Client with illustrations by Henry Raleigh.

In the UK, the novel was serialised as an abridged version in the weekly Women's Pictorial magazine in seven instalments from February 20 (Volume 33, Number 841) to April 3, 1937 (Volume 33, Number 847) under the title Mystery of Littlegreen House. There were no chapter divisions and all of the instalments carried illustrations by "Raleigh".[15]

International titles

  • Dutch: Brief van een dode (Letter of a dead (woman))
  • Croatian: Nijemi Svjedok (The Mute Witness)
  • German: Der ballspielende Hund (The dog who played with a toy ball)
  • Hungarian: A néma tanú (The Dumb Witness), A kutya se látta (Even the Dog didn't See It)
  • Italian: Due mesi dopo (Two Months Later)
  • Russian: Немой свидетель (=Nemoy svidetel', Dumb Witness), Безмолвный свидетель (=Bezmolvny svidetel', Dumb Witness)
  • Serbian: Ћутљиви Сведок (А Silent Witness)
  • Spanish: El Testigo Mudo (The Mute Witness)
  • Indonesian: Saksi Bisu (Dumb Witness)
  • French: Témoin muet (Dumb Witness)


  1. ^ The Observer July 4, 1937 (Page 6)
  2. ^ John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction - the collector's guide: Second Edition (Pages 82 and 86) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
  3. ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
  4. ^ Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
  5. ^ Kennedy, Maev; Katie Allen (5 June 2009). "Two unpublished Poirot short stories found in Agatha Christie's holiday home". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/05/two-unpublished-poirot-stories-found. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  6. ^ Burton Frierson (2009-11-10). "Lost Agatha Christie story to be published". Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSTRE5A95OG20091110. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  7. ^ "The Strand Magazine's Online Shop: Tenth Anniversary Issue of The Strand". http://www.strandmag.com/Tenth-Anniversary-Issue-of-The-Strand_p_7669.html#. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  8. ^ The Times Literary Supplement July 10, 1937 (Page 511)
  9. ^ The New York Times Book Review September 26, 1937 (Page 26)
  10. ^ The Observer July 18, 1937 (Page 8)
  11. ^ The Scotsman July 5, 1937 (Page 15)
  12. ^ The Guardian July 13, 1937 (Page 7)
  13. ^ Daily Mirror July 8, 1937 (Page 24)
  14. ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie - Revised edition (Page 192). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0006374743
  15. ^ Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers - Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON TB12.

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