The dog it was...

Actually in this case it wasn't...the dog didn't die, but it was inordinately helpful in solving a nasty case of murder.

As a dog-lover I'm always rather surprised at how few pets feature in adult fiction. There are loads in children's fiction - everything from post-bringing owls to the intrepid Timmy of Enid Blyton's Famous Five books. I guess in a way the pets in kids' books become the children's very own substitute children - the famous fives' parents may be pretty useless, but at least the kids take good care of Timmy. But back to pets in adult fiction - around 43% of households in the UK have a pet, while 39% of American households own at least one dog - and yet you try to think of the number of times a pet appears in adult fiction...difficult, eh? There's Bill Sike's canine, Bullseye, the malevolent cat of The Master and Margarita owned by the devil himself, and, of course, Pickwick, the dodo (I want one for Christmas!) in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series; but this is just a small handful of fur and feather, and hardly a reflection of what life is like outside the pages of fiction.

Just occasionally however a pet makes a satisfying appearance, and this is the case in Agatha Christie's Dumb witness, a clever murder mystery that opens with an accident which appears to be the fault of the hapless victim's fox-terrier. Dedicated to Agatha Christie's own dog, Peter, this is a fun story, with an ingenious crime. Through a chapter of accidents Poirot is summoned by the victim to investigate the victim's own death. The death appears to be from natural causes, but Poirot is suspicious, and with the prospect of another murder about to be committed, he must act quickly.

The crime is cleverly laid out, Poirot's side-kick Hastings is his usual fun self, and this is an enjoyable read. Published in 1937, Dumb witness owes some of its narrative to Dorothy L. Sayer's earlier novel Strong poison (1929) when a seance provides an enormous clue to the nature of the murder. It's not as good as Strong poison, nor as serious but it's a fun read - if you've never read any Christie before this would make a great introduction. And - in case any dog lovers are worried - Bob the dog does indeed live happily ever after.


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