A collection of macabre mysteries, including the superlative short story Witness for the Prosecution…
Twelve unexplained phenomena with no apparent earthly explanation…
A dog-shaped gunpowder mark; an omen from ‘the other side’; a haunted house; a chilling seance; a case of split personalities; a recurring nightmare; an eerie wireless message; an elderly lady’s hold over a young man; a disembodied cry of ‘murder’; a young man’s sudden amnesia; a levitation experience; a mysterious SOS.
To discover the answers, delve into the supernatural storytelling of Agatha Christie.
The Hound of Death is a collection of 12 short stories, all of which feature an element of the supernatural. It’s a varied collection, and the first of Christie’s shorter fiction that I’ve read. As you might expect from this author, many feature a crime of some description, and I thought that all of the stories were cleverly done.
As ever with a collection of short stories, I enjoyed some of these tales more than others, although I enjoyed the collection and its themes as a whole. My favourite tales in the collection were:
In Wireless, Mrs Harter is diagnosed as having a minor heart condition. Told by her doctor not to dwell on her circumstances, her nephew buys her a wireless for entertainment. Things take a turn when she hears her dead husband’s voice through the wireless, saying that they will soon be reunited. There’s so much I want to say about this tale, but I’d hate to spoil it for other readers. Needless to say, it’s a fiendishly clever tale, and one that I very much enjoyed, particularly as the ultimate ending was very satisfying.
The Witness for the Prosecution is a famous tale and it’s not difficult to see why. In it, Leonard Vole is under arrest pending trial murder of Miss Emily Finch, an older woman who just so happens to have updated her will to the benefit of this young man. Told from the perspective of his lawyer, Mr Mayherne, this becomes a tale of his story versus that of his wife as he claims he was at home at the time of the murder, while she says he was not. His lawyer believes him – he is open and sincere, and shows none of the hallmarks of guilt, but can he persuade judge and jury? Of all the stories in this collection, this is the one that I enjoyed the most. It’s also the one that is most like Christie’s detective fiction (that I’ve read, at least) and I felt that this was more of a mystery than a tale of the supernatural.
In The Mystery of the Blue Jar, Jack Heartington hears a cry of “Murder – help! Murder!” while playing golf before work one morning. No one else hears anything, and he puts it down to his imagination when he can find no evidence of a crime or anyone coming to any harm. When he hears the same cry again the next day, he begins to question his sanity. This story is another that I thoroughly enjoyed, and had no idea where it was going. It’s such a clever tale, and bridges the gap between crime and the supernatural brilliantly.
The Last Séance is one of the more eerie tales in the collection. It sees a celebrated medium about to perform her final séance, the role having taken its toll on her. Her final client is a woman who lost her daughter. After several previous attempts, she has become increasingly successful at summoning the daughter, and her client demands this one last chance to interact with her. Spanning a mere 15 pages, this is one of the shorter tales in the collections, but Christie immediately builds tension and delivers a wonderfully creepy tale.
I’m always admiring of those that are able to write short fiction well. I think that to set up a story, the characters, and to provide a twist such as those in this collection is quite difficult given that the luxury of building up these elements over time isn’t available, and I found this to be an enjoyable and at times eerie collection. I recommend The Hound of Death to anyone looking for a selection of short tales with a supernatural vibe.