Rating: 2.5 – three out of five
Year of Publication: 1933
Motive for Murder/Crime: Wealth and the Manipulation of Minds
Highlights: The twelve stories in the book see Agatha Christie in a different light as she takes readers to a journey in spiritualism and indescribable circumstances. Not many bodies around nor the presence of police but ordinary people having to face different dilemmas.
Some of the stories can be categorised into the ghost theme and a touch of mystery seem to underline in each story. Interestingly, this book appears to be a so-called ‘sequel’ The Mysterious Mr. Quin, published three years beforehand (see the Notes). Moreover, it is quite a contrast in terms of plotting compared to The Thirteen Problems (1932 – see the Notes) in which an unassuming spinster is then risen to the fame in Britain.
As a result, the Hound of Death is a fascinating reading – if not probably difficult or baffling to many. I wonder whether some had moments of frowning and skimming the pages trying to spot a clue – like what I did. I put it aside for a few months and came back later after I had finished While The Light Lasts (see the Notes). As I pondered over, I began to piece the puzzling bits in each story in the Hound of Death.
It is essential to realise that the authoress is a fan of Sigmund Freud’s theories. Hence, her belief in the power of subconscious self and its great influence towards people’s behaviour. Furthermore, she firmly believes that ‘women’s instinct’ does work in some situations while a ‘vibe’ drive people in their response to a circumstance.
In The Red Signal, the origins of premonition is debated. On the one hand, the expert highlights the scientific side of it; that the warning for a danger comes from within, not defined by an event or behaviour of others – the external factors. On the other, a certain response may emanate from a mixture of gestures and a few words spoken. What makes the difference is the interpretation; to the eye of a psychopath’s someone’s remarks means a real danger, whereas to the victim ‘a warning’ to his life might have simply been perceived as a mere personal fear or anxiety.
How can someone detect a danger? The Lamp is an exemplary example on the matter. Here is a widow who decides to take an old house on offer because of its cheap rent. She does not believe about the wandering spirit of a small boy who has died from starvation in the house. Is she to give in to a superstition or go ahead?
The Gypsyto a young man. He chooses to dismiss them, having shivered at the sight of a gypsy woman. Would he have been alive had he listened to the woman? The idea seems to mirror Minority Report ; a tale of futuristic police squad who respond to a crime before it occurs.
In S.O.S, an outsider comes across the three letters written on the table in the room where he stays. Will he ignore it as it is none of his business? I recall a letter Poirot receives in Christmas Adventure (see Notes On The Adventure of Christmas Pudding) from an illiterate hand. Yet, the little man with a magnificent beard sees no reason to believe the ‘warning’ and eats a slice of his Christmas pudding. Is he right?
In at least three stories, notably The Hound of Death, Christie elaborates the topic of supernatural power. A nun’s strange visualisation is related to the destruction of a monastery in Belgium when it was surrounded by the Germans in the War.
Then The Last Séance sees things from a medium’s viewpoint. She is very reluctant to perform for the last time. It seems to be she has foreseen the tragic ending that would happen in the end. She gives in because of her greedy husband.
The ending is most fascinating, for the medium’s maid cries in wonder ‘Why Madame is half the size’?
I have never been to a séance and do not believe in the matter of a ‘wandering spirit,’ so can any of you enlighten me on the matter?
My fascination continues in the bewildering case of multiple personalities of a French girl. It is discussed on board the train in The Fourth Man by three men; a nerve specialist, a clergyman and a lawyer. They forget their company nevertheless– another man in the carriage. Having listened to the details of the case with his eyes closed, he eventually speaks up. He knows the girl and the other girl, which holds the clue to the case and nobody have never heard before.
Fortunately, there are some clever crime plots in place in The Red Signal, Wireless and The Witness For Prosecution. The criminals are a master of disguise. In the latter story readers may have sympathies to a counsel who is in a hot seat. Is the client a murderer or innocent? A manipulative personality or sincere? Decent or cunning? Such character recurs in Christie’s novels and my favourite for an ambiguous character is Michael Rogers in Endless Night (see the Notes).
The Mystery of The Blue Jar concerns an ingenious theft that manipulates naivety. Jack Harthington thinks that he is on the verge of insanity as he seems to have been the only one who heard a cry of ‘Murder. Help! Murder!’ consecutively. His gullible personality leads him to a gang of thieves who is after his uncle’s valuable collection of China jars.
My memory goes to the similar plot deployed in Mr. Eastwood’s Adventure (one of the stories in The Lysterdale Mystery). There are two fake constables that begins with a distress phone call of a woman’s to Mr. Eastwood. Poirot also is in the same situation in Yellow Iris (see Notes On Problem At Pollensa Bay).
I was grinning to have been reminded of the details and the seemingly stupidity of the opposite sex. But, are we women destined to be unlucky in love? Or to brew a wicked scheme in The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Michael Carmichael?
What baffles me is The Call of The Wings. A lonely millionaire feels that it is time to give back to the society. His meeting with a beggar and a tramp spur him on. Consequently, he releases his fortune which ‘binds’ him and thus gains freedom –free from worldly possession. Supposedly, it is simply a plot created by the man to whom to ‘the poor’ his money would be? Moreover, would someone be free by giving up the world?
In The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Michael Carmichael, I hardly discern the notion of transferring a human soul to a dead cat and the suggestion that the suspect is an animagus. In all honesty, it was like reading Harry Potter books! All is well when the curse is backfired in the end.
Lastly, I cannot decide whether to ‘like’ the book. Perhaps, just to understand the message and why the stories have been written. Over to you now, readers and I would appreciate your comments.
Plots, Cast of Characters and The Twist in the order of appearance:
1. The Hound of Death
Plot: Sister Mary Angelique has strange visualisations, during which she sees herself as a guardian to the faith. Rumour has it that she was calling down the lightning when the German soldiers surrounded a monastery in Belgium. It was then blasted to pieces and all of the soldiers died. Two walls remains standing; one of them has a black mark on it in the shape of a great hound – hence the legend ‘The Hound of Death’.
Since then the nun was brought to Britain as a refugee and has resided in a nursing home in Cornwall. Furthermore, she has become a curious case to the psychiatrist Dr. Rose, who takes interest to her mixing up past and present memories.
Mr. Anstruther (a visitor)
Kitty Anstruther (Mr. Anstruther’s sister, with whom the nun used to live when she came to Britain)
Sister Mary Angelique (the patient)
Dr. Rose (the psychiatrist in charge of the nun’s case)
The Twist: Dr. Rose and Sister Mary Angelique die from a landslide
2. The Red Signal
Plot: A renowned psychiatrist intends to reveal a psychopath among the attendees in a small dinner party. Premonitions and instincts discussed, the psychopath notices what the other knows about his state of his mind and acts accordingly. Can the victim escape from the death trap signed by himself?
Sir Arlington West (the psychiatrist)
Dermot West (Sir Arlington’s nephew and Jake Trent’s good friend)
Johnson (Sir Arlington’s manservant)
The Trents (Jake and Clare)
The Twist: Johnson sees Dermot West in a row with his uncle over Clare Trent
3. The Fourth Man
Plot: Three men discuss a psychiatric case on board the train. They debate certain aspects of multiple personalities of Felicia Bault’s which relate to the legal, religious and scientific viewpoints. For instance, is it possible that a simple peasant Brittany girl could have possibly spoken different languages and sang beautifully? Did she strangle herself in the end?
While each of them justify their arguments, a male voice says,’You must excuse me. But I knew her.’ He is the fourth man, who has been sitting quietly in the same carriage. ‘Yes. And Annette Ravel also. You have not heard of Annette Ravel, I see? And yet the story of the one is the story of the other….’
What does the mysterious man mean? Who is he?
Dr. Campbell Clark (a physician and mental specialist)
Sir George Durand (a famous lawyer)
Canon Parfitt (a clergyman whose interest is delivering a scientific sermon)
Raoul Letardeau (the Fourth Man)
The Twist: Felicia Bault is under the control of Annette Ravel and therefore Bault would obey whatever the other asks.
4. The Gypsy
Plot: Carpenter’s dislike to Gypsies intrigues his friend, Macfarlane. It began as a child’s dream of seeing a Gypsy woman stand watching him with sad eyes. Years later, Carpenter meets Alistair Haworth at the Lawes. She makes him feel unease nevertheless. ‘I should not go in, if I were you…’ she says, giving him the very similar expression just as the Gypsy’s in the dream. He then is engaged to Esther Lawes and a few weeks later it ends. Yet, before Esther broke their engagement, Haworth remarks: ‘I shouldn’t go back too soon if I were you…’ The last ‘warning’ comes after he sees a doctor who advised an operation to his leg. He runs into a nurse who says: ‘I wouldn’t have that operation, if I were you…’
‘Dickie’ Carpenter does not awake any more after being put to sleep under the anaesthetic.
Alistair Haworth (the medium)
Rachel Lawes (Macfarlane’s fiancée)
Mrs. Rowse (Macfarlane’s housekeeper)
The Twist: Alistair Haworth dies a day after meeting Macfarlane
5. The Lamp
Plot: No.19 at Weyminster has been left neglected for many years – nobody wanted to buy nor rent it. When Mrs. Lancaster moves in with her elderly father and her son, she has been aware of the fact that the house might is haunted. Mr. Winburn, his grandson Geoffrey and the maids hear a little boy crying quietly. A month later, Geoffrey is ill and only then does she hear the eerie sound of another boy than hers.
What does the ‘boy spirit’ want from them?
The Lancasters (a widow and Geoffrey, her son)
Mr. Raddish (the house agent)
Mr. Winburn (Mrs. Lancaster’s father)
The Twist: ‘All right, I’m comin’,’ Geoffrey whispers. He looked past his mother towards the open door. Afterwards, his eyes are closed.
Plot: A wireless has been bought for the enjoyment of Mary Harther. She nonetheless does not like it, believing modernity around the house is something she cannot fathom.
Three months after the installation, she hears a voice beyond the grave; her late husband’s. Then again and again, saying the same thing: ‘Patrick speaking to you, Mary. I will be coming for you very soon…’
Be that as it may, she agrees to ‘come’ on Friday night at 9.30 pm. Sitting in her armchair, she waits; the clock is ticking and soon the hand will struck at half past. In the dim light of the doorway stands a familiar figure with chestnut beard and whiskers and old-fashioned Victorian coat. She rises and her body flops onto the floor.
Charles Ridgeway (Mary’s nephew)
Elizabeth Marshall (Mary’s servant)
Mr. Hopkinson (Mary’s lawyer)
Mary Harter (Charles’s aunt)
Dr. Meynell (Mary’s doctor)
The Twist: The will made in favour of Charles Ridgeway is written using a special ink that will disappear few days afterwards.
7. The Witness For The Prosecution
Plot: A solicitor for a would-be hung man conducts a long interview with the defendant to establish the nature of the crime. For the man has been charged with the murder of a well-to-do spinster. By chance he met the elderly woman, of whom he has then perceived having had a fancy about him and trusted him to look into her business affairs. Furthermore, she has left a will in which he has become the principal beneficiary.
The woman’s maid, however, depicts the defendant as a gold digger who preys the elderly lonely women. Also, she suggests he hit her mistress with a crowbar. On the night of the murder, she heard their arguments around half past nine. On the contrary, he insists having left the spinster’s house early. Moreover, he says that ‘his wife’ can vouch for him that he was home by half past nine.
Then a letter arrives, written by an illiterate hand, in which the sender asks two-hundred quit for information that will prove the solicitor’s client’s innocence.
Jane Mackenzie (the murdered woman’s maid)
Leonard Voyle (the suspect)
Mr. Mayherne (the solicitor)
Romaine Heilger (an Austrian, Leonard’s ‘wife’)
The Twist: Romaine Heilger is Voyle’s mistress and she goes out on the night of the murder and does not come back until half past ten.
8. The Mystery of Blue Jar
Plot: A young man of twenty-four years old is up at the link to polish his skill. One morning he hears a cry ‘Help! Murder!’ Dashing to find the source of the voice, he meets a French girl who lives in a Heather cottage near the spot. Yet, she did not hear anything.
The cry recurs at the same time. On the brink of frustration, he describes the occurrence to a man who calls himself ‘a doctor of the soul.’ Furthermore, the young man takes the other to the link and is surprised that he, just as the girl, appears to have not heard any cries of a woman’s.
The doctor suggests that the cry might have come from Mrs. Turner, who used to live in the cottage. According to him, the locals only see Mr. Turner but not his wife. Moreover, the girl says that the house appears to be haunted, for she has been having the same dream of a foreign woman standing by a table with a blue jar on it. Then she finds a sketch of her in the house. ‘Monsieur le docteur, that is the face of the woman I saw in my dream, and that is the identical blue jar.’
Before the young man realises what he has done, a hundred-years-old Chinese blue jar of his uncle’s has gone.
Felise Marchaud (the French girl)
George Harthington (Jake’s uncle who is a Chinese collector)
Jake Harthington (the young man)
Lavington (calls himself ‘a doctor of the soul’)
The Twist: ‘To begin with, although I have taken my degree, I do not practise medicine. Strictly speaking, I am not a doctor – not a doctor of the body, that is.’ Jack looks at Lavington keenly. ‘Or the mind?’ ‘Yes, in a sense, but more truly I call myself a doctor of the soul.’
9. The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael
Plot: An eminent psychologist is sent for to Wolden, Hertfordshire. The son of late Sir William Carmichael of Wolden has shown signs of depression; he was found wandering the village absentmindedly and has not been his usual self. The only drink he touches is milk.
The psychologist stays over to examine the patient, accompanied by a colleague. It surprises him the intense affection expressed to his stepmother; purring by her side like a tame cat. Meanwhile, little does the patient pay attention to his fiancée.
Intriguingly, when the psychologist enquires the stepmother about her having a cat pet, she denies it. On the contrary, the footman is quite sure that Lady Carmichael had a grey Persian cat that she put it away herself. It has been buried under the copper beech a week ago.
As the psychologist and the colleague dig the cat’s grave, they notice that it has been poisoned with Prussic Acid.
Sir Arthur Carmichael (the patient)
Dr. Edward Carstairs (the psychologist)
Lady Carmichael (Sir Arthur’s stepmother)
Dr. Settle (Dr. Edward’s colleague who accompanies him to Wolden)
Phylis Patterson (Sir Arthur’s fiancée)
The Twist: Sir Arthur Michael falls into a pond and is likely to drawn.
10. The Call of Wings
Plot: An encounter with a tramp on a wintry night leaves a deep impression to a man of means – a millionaire. Not long, he sees a legless man playing the flute; the tunes are different, they are uplifting and inspiring as if there is a pair of wings attached to it. Nonetheless, the thought of it makes him feel unable to breathe in his home, having felt trapped by the worldly possession.
He tells the experience to a nerve specialist and the specialist suggests him see the disabled man again. When they meet, the man draws the face of Pan.
The next thing the millionaire does is to see his friend, who manages an East End mission for the poor. He gives the mission every penny he has.
Bernard Seldon (the nerve specialist)
Richard Borrow (Silas’s friend, to whom he gives all his money for the poor)
Silas Hamer (the millionaire)
The Twist: Silas Hamer becomes a tramp
11. The Last Seance
Plot: A medium see a premonition that the impending séance can be dangerous to her life. She does not like the client for no apparent reason, for they are the ill feelings about the other woman – a grieving mother. Moreover, she knows little about the mother’s background. ‘I won’t do it, Raoul. I won’t do it,’ she pleads. Her husband differs from hers. He said it had not been about the sum of money, but the happiness of the woman to have had one last sight of her child. ‘Oh you torture me,’ murmurs his wife.
What is the medium afraid of? What does the client want from the other?
Elise (the maid)
Madame Exe (Simone’s client)
Raoul Daubreil (Simone’s husband)
Simone Daubreil (Raoul’s wife – the medium)
The Twist: Madame Exe binds Raoul’s hands to the back with a string of cord she has brought
Plot: In a rain a man stands staring at the punctured wheels of his car; his being in the middle of nowhere against the inky sky in Wiltshire. His eye catches a gleam of light on the hillside above him. He walks towards it, which turns to be a small cottage inhabited by a family of four. They offer to put him up for the night.
Before he turns in, he notices three letters written on the table in his bedroom. SOS.
The Dinsmeads (father, mother and two daughters, Charlotte and Magdalen)
Mortimer Cleveland (the stranger)
The Twist: Charlotte is not the Dinsmeads’s biological daughter and she might be the lost daughter of a rich Jew man.