7 July 2022

Review: THE HOUND OF DEATH and other stories, Agatha Christie

  • This edition published by the Hamlyn Publishing Group in 1972
  • part of the Agatha Christie Crime Collection, pages 345-510 (165 pages)
  • is a collection of twelve short stories by Agatha Christie first published in the United Kingdom in October 1933.

Synopsis (Agatha Christie.com)

Twelve unexplained phenomena with no apparent earthly explanation…

A dog-shaped gunpowder mark; an omen from ‘the other side’; a haunted house; a chilling séance; 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.

I have read this earlier - see my post.

I am reading this again, this time with my U3A discussion group, so I have decided to ask them each to handle the discussion of a particular story. Below is the wording that I have sent to them:

.. if you could each make some notes on the particular short story assigned to you along the following lines:

  • brief plot summary - don't worry about spoilers - we will have all read it, but we probably need to be reminded of the main narrative, including how it ends.
  • over riding theme -is it crime fiction or something else?
  • how you felt about it - did you enjoy it? - give it a rating out of 5
  • you will have 5 or so minutes to talk about it.

My Take

I have assigned myself  The Red Signal, published June 1924. But here I will be careful about spoilers.

This story is one of the longer ones in the collection. It begins with a discussion of the sixth sense, which the speaker, Mrs Eversleigh, thinks all women have. She is addressing Sir Alington West, a famous alienist, a former term for a psychiatrist. A discussion ensues about the differences between the sixth sense and premonitions. One of the party, Dermot West, talks about "red signals", the feeling that something is not quite right. Sir Alington says that he thinks premonitions often come from within, the subconscious picking up on vibes from other people.

However, even as he talks, Dermot feels that he is picking up a Red Signal, and begins to look for what is giving it to him. If you want to know how this story continues, go down to the bottom of the page.      

My rating: 4.4 

See the other Agatha Christie short stories that I have read. 156 of them.

The continuation of the story - spoiler alert!

Dermot West feels that Sir Alington is focussing in particular on another member of the dinner party, Claire Trent. He himself feels particularly attracted to Claire, really besotted with her, but torn because her husband Jack is his best friend.

After dinner, the group participates in a seance, in which the medium calls a Japanese spirit. A voice comes through the medium advising someone not to go home but nobody is really sure who the advice is directed to. When the medium comes back to normality she says she has the feeling that there is death in the air.

In a discussion afterwards Sir Alington tells Dermot that Claire is not for him. That there is insanity in the family. Dermot assumes the one with insanity is Claire. Claire's husband Jack is his best friend, and actually saved his life back in the war. 

Later that night the police come to Dermot's flat to tell him that Sir Alington has been murdered shortly after Dermot left him. We later discover that the murderer is Jack Trent, that he is the one with insanity, not Claire. He has committed the murder and fudged evidence that will convict Dermot, as he has noticed Dermot's feelings for Claire.

So how did I feel about this story? I guess the theme is that while you might have a premonition, recognise danger signals etc., you might still misinterpret them, just as Sir Alington West did, as he did not imagine that he was the one in danger. So, also, danger signals, premonitions etc. do exist.

In the long run, the story was a bit complicated, maybe too many mini stories. The finale of the story was well disguised. And every one you talk to will say they understand what are meant by danger signals. 

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