Short Story on Wednesday – “The Red Signal”

Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Who is the English language author who has sold more books than any other? I ran across this question earlier this year while participating in a trivia fundraiser event for the Indiana Bar Foundation (no, I’m not a lawyer but, God help me, I have several friends that are 🙂 ). I and my team failed to come up with the answer they were looking for, which turns out to be… Agatha Christie.

I haven’t read much by her over the years – a couple short stories and the book, Ten Little Indians, which was one of my first introductions to The Mystery Novel. A couple of weeks ago I read her short story, “The Red Signal.”

So, do you believe in precognition or premonitions? I don’t. Not really, anyway. The funny thing is, that for those who have a ‘random’ or coincidental dream or premonition that actually does come true, it is understandably hard to convince them that their experience was not “supernatural” in any way.

“The Red Signal,” touches on this theme in a tidy succinct way. We join the action at a dinner party at the home of Jack and Claire Trent, where one of the guests is the famous alienist (I’ve always loved that word), Sir Alington. Another guest, Dermot West, is also the nephew of Sir Alington, and in love with Claire Trent, the wife of a good friend.

Conversation has turned to the supernatural, and whether or not premonitions are possible. Sir Alington, of course, provides the voice of reason at the party, and successfully provides a “rational explanation” for the examples cited by Dermot of his own premonitions, which to him are presaged by an internal warning which he calls “The Red Signal.” Asked if he has seen the signal recently, he says “no,” failing to tell his fellow diners that he was seeing the signal that night. The evening’s entertainment includes a house call by a psychic who conducts a seance, at the conclusion of which she has a vague warning (funny how often vagueness is part of their “advice”) about “not going home.” But, to whom does this apply? And is it related to Dermot’s “Red Signal?” That’s all the detail I’ll go into as I don’t want to have to write “spoiler alert.” 🙂

The beauty of this story’s construction, though, is that Christie somehow weaves the tale so that the “don’t go home” warning could actually be applied to almost any of them. It’s not a long story, and is more of a crime story than a pure mystery. I recommend it.

“Short Story on Wednesday” is a meme hosted by Breadcrumb Reads and is now in its 22nd edition…