Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Hound of Death: Agatha Christie, November 23—30, 2011; December 23, 2011—January 13, 2012
My rating: ♦♦◊◊◊
The Hound of Death is the first set of short stories to feature in The Agatha Christie Collection. I’m not generally a fan of short stories, although Christie offers up some rather good ideas in this supernatural portfolio. Although some of the themes begin to get repetitive, there is enough to distinguish them from one another. Christie successfully resolves some of the stories with “natural” solutions, while others are more open-ended and suggestive, meaning the reader can play along without knowing whether the phenomena described have alternative explanations or not.
The Hound of Death ♦♦◊◊◊
The titular first tale sees a nun haunted by the fact she saw the shape of a black dog on the wall of her convent after it blew up. Although this starts as a semi-interesting premise, the whole tale rapidly descends int the frankly sublime with other worlds and assorted mumbo jumbo that makes it too bizarre to care about.
The Red Signal ♦♦♦♦◊
The best of the twelve, The Red Signal begins at a dinner party where the guests describe the instinctive feeling of danger. Predictably, one of the guests just so happens to have that feeling right now and the guessing game begins on whom the inevitable tragedy will befall. The story progresses with the lives of some key characters which adds the personal touch lacking from other instalments. It ends with a twist you don’t see coming and is a clever opening for the collection after the false start in The Hound.
The Fourth Man ♦♦♦◊◊
Three men on a train – a lawyer, a doctor and a member of clergy – share a train journey and discuss the supernatural from their respective standpoints. They soon turn to discuss a specific case of a girl with multiple personalities who strangled herself to death, and the fourth man at their table joins the conversation to shed further light on it. The case is well thought out and genuinely creepy.
The Gispy ♦◊◊◊◊
Although one of the shortest in the collection, The Gipsy seems to drag on forever. In effect, a man sees a gipsy who freaks him out and vanishes. She pops up again right before major surgery and he has a flip out. The story proceeds from there, and it’s the most far-fetched drivel with a distinctly mediocre ending.
The Lamp ♦♦♦◊◊
In a change of tone, The Lamp follows three generations – grandfather, mother and child – who move into a house which appears to be haunted by the ghost of a child. Christie has here the seeds of a good story which feels rushed to its conclusion. Had this been a full length novel, or perhaps a movie, it would have had great potential but unfortunately she sells her idea short with this curtailed rendition at only 8 pages.
An old woman hears her dead husband’s voice on her wireless and before long he drops the minor bombshell that she’s about to pop her clogs. Another clever, if slightly predictable, story which reaches a satisfying conclusion that (unlike Christie) you could see coming.
The Witness for the Prosecution ♦♦♦♦◊
The most recognisable title from the collection, The Witness for the Prosecution is later adapted into a full-length play and it’s clear why. This is classic Christie, delivering multiple twists and a great ride along the way. A solicitor tries to help his client, accused of murder, but his only key witness – his wife – has decided to lie about his alibi to deliberately incriminate him to end their acrimonious marriage. Out of the woodwork appears a mysterious witness for the defence and things hot up. Hats off to her for a killer climax. It has to be mentioned, though, that the story seems out of place in a supernatural short story collection when it’s a straightforward murder mystery.
The Mystery of the Blue Jar ♦♦♦◊◊
A good but poorly executed story in The Mystery of the Blue Jar. Jack Hartington hears a cry for help at the same place, at the same time every day and wonders if he is hearing a ghost, or going mad. The pacing is slightly off with too much attention paid to a slow build up and the ending rushed despite being one of the lengthier entries.
The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael ♦♦◊◊◊
The pacing issues continue into the next story. Unlike her, Christie shows her hand almost immediately and much of the story involves the reader waiting for the incredibly dense protagonist to catch up. When they finally do, the frankly crazy conclusion follows that requires you to not so much suspend disbelief as scrumple it into a ball and throw it in the bin.
The Call of Wings ♦♦◊◊◊
Unlike many of the other stories, The Call of Wings has a focus on redemption, anti-materialism and paradise. With the dark side of the supernatural manifest in the other instalments, we see a clear change in tone. The story itself is quite fluffy and more apt to being on the Christmas TV channel than perhaps in this collection, but it’s not the worst.
The Last Seance ♦◊◊◊◊
An incredibly dark story without much of a storyline. It explores – if you can call it an exploration – the concept of manifestations becoming permanently tangible. It’s very underdeveloped with a rushed ending which isn’t in keeping with the characters’ behaviour to that point and overall, very uninspiring.
The final story sees a spiritualist’s car break down in the middle of nowhere. He takes refuge in the home of a bizarre family with a secret to hide. He finds SOS written in his bedroom and seeks to help whichever individual wrote it. A relatively clever idea spoiled with messy writing and an abrupt conclusion.