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Literature / Dumb Witness

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Dumb Witness is a 1937 mystery novel by Agatha Christie featuring Hercule Poirot.

Poirot and Hastings receive a message with a prospective job offer from Emily Arundell. Ms. Arundell has recently survived an attempt on her life, and suspecting a member of her family, changed her will in favor of a servant, while hiring Poirot. By the time they arrive, Ms. Arundell has died, apparently from illness, causing the detectives to embark on a quest to find out whether it was murder, and who is responsible.

Dumb Witness is also notable as the last novel before Curtain to have Hastings as a narrator.


  • Busman's Holiday: Hastings uses this exact phrase to describe Poirot's investigation, suggesting that Poirot is wasting his time, investigating a failed attempted murder of a woman who then died of natural causes. As usual, Hastings is wrong, as Poirot eventually deduces that Miss Arundell was in fact murdered.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Dr. Grainger, who attended Miss Arundell in her final illness mentions offhandedly how he lost his sense of smell after suffering from the flu four years ago. This caused him to miss the garlic odor that is a symptom of phosphorus poisoning.
    • Theresa Arundell's statement that Bella Tanios is often copying fashion trends, but is behind the times and trying to do so cheaply. Bella was copying the trend of wearing a metal broach with one's initials, and her "AT" looked like Theresa's "TA" in the mirror.
  • Continuity Nod: Poirot tells a lot of lies in an interview, claiming to the Tripp sisters that he has traveled extensively in "the East". Hastings knows that Poirot's experience in the East was one trip to Syria and Iraq, which was the occasion for novel Murder in Mesopotamia (and Murder on the Orient Express on the way back home).
  • Cool Old Lady: Crotchety old Miss Peabody, who is very, very sharp and sees straight through Poirot's BS about writing a book but tells all her gossip anyway because she likes to gossip. She encounters Poirot at the end and ribs him again for basically covering up the murder of Miss Arundell.
  • Doing In the Wizard: The "ectoplasmic emanation" that the Tripp sisters observed coming from Miss Arundell was real but it was actually her glowing breath, caused by phosphorus poisoning.
  • Dramatic Drop: Theresa "carelessly" pins a brooch, itself an important clue, to her shirt. As she's leaving Poirot he drops his bomb: the corpse of Miss Arundell may have to be exhumed.
    Theresa stopped dead. The brooch fell to the ground.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bella Tanios kills herself by drug overdose, after Poirot reveals that he knows she's the killer.
  • Exact Words: As usual, Poirot does this, telling Hastings he suspects there will be another murder, but letting him draw his own, wrong conclusions about what he means.
  • Gaslighting: Jacob Tanios appears to be doing this. He tells Poirot that his wife has been acting strangely recently, that Poirot shouldn't really believe anything she says, and that he wants to place her in psychiatric care. Subverted, as he's actually being honest here; Bella has grown paranoid after murdering Miss Arundell.
  • Gossipy Hens: Ms. Arundell's friend Ms. Peabody can get into this, although she's also good at keeping secrets that she views as more important.
  • Granola Girl: Isabel and Julia Tripp are proto-examples: aside from spiritualists, they are also vegetarians, theosophists, British Israelitesnote  and Christian Scientists.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Poirot comes to feel that Bella Tanios is far less devoted to her husband than he lets on, and feels that she had to settle for marrying him.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Hastings ultimately adopts Emily's dog.
  • Inheritance Murder: The reason for both attempts on the life of Mrs. Arundell. The second, successful one came after Mrs. Arundell changed her will, something the killer did not know about.
  • In the Blood: Theresa's mother was tried (and acquitted) of murder, and it is discussed whether she may have passed murderous tendencies to her daughter.
  • It's for a Book: When speaking with some of the witnesses, Poirot claims he is writing a book about General John Arundell, Emily's father.
  • Lovable Rogue: Arundell's nephew Charles gets this treatment, being a self-admitted wastrel, and somewhat shady figure, but one who people still find charming.
  • Mailman vs. Dog: Discussed. Poirot has a theory about why dogs attack the mailman; they think that the mailman is an unwelcome guest, because he often comes to the door but is never allowed in.
  • May–December Romance: One of Ms. Arundell's sisters (Bella's mother) married a man about twice her age.
  • Medication Tampering: The victim’s liver pills are doctored with phosphorus. The hint is given by the ‘aura’ seen around the woman: the phosphorescence of her breath.
  • Moment of Weakness: Ms. Lawson admits that when Ms. Arundell asked for her will shortly before dying, Ms. Lawson lied that it wasn't present due to believing that she intended to destroy it and knowing she inherited, something that has clearly caused her a great deal of distress.
  • Never One Murder: Subverted. A chapter near the end that is even titled "Another Victim" has Bella Tanios, who has suggested to Poirot that she knows a secret, die of a drug overdose. It seems like a third-act murder in the usual Christie style, but it turns out that she killed herself.
  • Old Maid: Ms. Arundell and two of her sisters died as elderly bachelorettes and Poirot suspects their niece Bella married simply to avoid this fate. Emily Arundell's best friend, Miss Peabody is another example.
  • Separated by a Common Language: "Bump her off" is described as "a very vulgar American" phrase.
  • Shady Real Estate Agent: The local real estate agent is used by Poirot and Hastings as a source of information while they are investigating under the guise of house-hunting. When Hastings says that the man assured them Ms. Arundell's death was accidental, Poirot asks if Hastings also believes the man's claim about what the house they saw was really worth, causing Hastings to admit that Poirot has a point.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Charles and Theresa Arundell's father followed the murder trial of an attractive woman, collecting clippings from it, then after she was acquitted, took a train to London and asked her to marry him.
  • Straw Vegetarian: The dingbat New Age-y Granola Girl Tripp sisters live on a diet of vegetables and fruit. Hastings the meat-lover is appalled. Subverted when Poirot says that just because two dumb people are vegetarians, being a vegetarian is not necessarily bad.
  • Summation Gathering: With a twist. Poirot gathers all the characters, like he usually does, and walks his way through his investigation, like he usually does. But in this instance, the killer is dead, having committed suicide.
  • This Bear Was Framed: Miss Arundell fell down the stairs after tripping on Bob's ball. She actually fell over a concealed tripwire, but Bob had a habit of leaving his ball at the top of the stairs, so he was initially blamed for it, as the killer intended.
  • Trip Trap: Miss Arundell is believed to have fallen down a staircase after tripping over a dog's chew toy. Poirot, however, discovers the remains of a tripwire on the top step, a clue that points to attempted murder.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: London party girl Theresa and reserved, unemotional local doctor Rex Donaldson seem to be very different personalities, but have a secure and loving romance.
  • The Watson: Hastings, following Poirot around, clueless as usual. His last appearance as Poirot's narrator until he came Back for the Finale with Curtain.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Several people wonder why Theresa and Rex are together. Even Theresa can't really tell why she loves him.

Alternative Title(s): Poirot Loses A Client