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The Incident of the Dog's Ball is a short story written by Agatha Christie which was never published in her lifetime. The manuscript was one of two found by Christie's daughter Rosalind Hicks in 2004 in an attic.[1] It was published in Great Britain in 2009 in John Curran's book Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making. It was also later published in the Strand Magazine 10th Anniversary Edition in 2009.

In his research, John Curran presents evidence that the story was probably written in 1933 and deduces that it was probably never published because Christie had, by 1935-36, decided to rework and expand it the storyline into the novel Dumb Witness which came out in 1937.[2]

Synopsis

Poirot receives a letter from an old lady in which she says she is extremely worried but doesn't specify what she is concerned about. However he is intrigued by two things. The letter arrives more than three months after it was written. Secondly, the lady says she had been extremely uneasy since "the incident of the dog's ball". Poirot decides to investigate but finds that the lady in question died shortly after penning the letter, long before the letter was posted.

Plot summary

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

Comparison with Dumb Witness

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

  • Almost all the plot elements in this short story were preserved and expanded in "Dumb Witness". The novel has more characters with different names and spends more time on character development. The locale is changed but both are still "village" stories.
  • The setting is Little Hemel in Kent and not Market Basing. But this (smaller) village also has a George Inn. Poirot does not need to go to an estate agent like in the novel. He just goes to the house and is let in by Ellen. In this story he also gets most of the background from the local doctor--he converses with fewer people.
  • The old lady's name is different but has a similar back story but no time is given (for the sake of brevity) to the history of the family unlike the Arundells. Her letter to Poirot is largely the same and is also posted by Ellen months after she dies.
  • The dog is still Bob, and continues to stay at the house "Laburnums", looked after by Ellen.
  • Here, the old lady only had two relatives, James and Mollie. The backstories are slightly different, but the same plot device is here: one knew about the new will, the other didn't. "Dumb Witness" had a foreigner inserted as misdirection. In this case, both relatives are not married and nobody tried to plant the blame on someone else (unlike Bella on her husband).
  • There are seances and the Pyms are the equivalent of the Tripps. But the spiritualist element plays a much smaller role. There is only the suggestion that Matilda might have been "influenced" by events at a seance to change her will. But Poirot doesn't pursue this and in fact never meets the Pyms. The crucial clue after a luminous haze during the seance comes from Lawson instead. Just like in the novel, the doctor had lost his sense of smell because of influenza.
  • The same plot device of "a-jar" and the dog picture is used. Like in the novel it used to be above the mantlepiece. Here Lawson moved it to her apartment (same address) after her employer died. The picture has the same caption but it is a piece of needlework and is done by Matilda Wheeler herself when she was a little girl.
  • Poirot "accidentally" drops a dog's ball from his pocket to test the reactions of the suspects. This is not done in the novel.
  • The ending is the same--the killer commits suicide after Poirot lays out the facts. Here Poirot only mentions that he will persuade Lawson to share out the estate. In the novel, it is recorded that she actually does.
  • Little echoes of the short story were preserved in the novel (as Easter eggs?) Hence Market Basing has Hemel End and Hemel Down. George Inns exist in both, and although Matilda Wheeler became Emily Arundell she still a sister Matilda.

Characters

Research notes

Here, and perhaps nowhere else, Christie gave Hastings the post-nominals "O.B.E."

Publication history

References

  1. "Lost Agatha Christie story to be published,” Reuters online, November 11, 2009, URL
  2. John Curran, Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making (London: HarperCollins, 2011), Part II.
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