The twelfth case in The Little Doctor collection, Arsenic Hall (Le Chateau de l’arsenic) breaks the mold of its predecessors in four ways: although its opening is fast-moving, it soon slows to a plodding investigation with little action. Dollent does more ‘doctoring’ in his ‘detecting” than seen in the past. Simenon plays the sex up, harking back to what characterized many of his early romans populaires. Finally, Dollent does not drink at all while investigating as one usually sees.
1) When the exhumation of three bodies laced with arsenic draws Dollent to an isolated country chateau, a “multitude of dogs” attack the gate. His counterattack is aggressive, too, for as soon as he meets their owner, he strikes out: “I am here… to find out if you poisoned your aunt…. your wife… and your niece.” His “unflinching” host responds with “perfect courtesy” to the “crude” question: “You are quite right in speaking frankly... May I offer you something to drink” and “unhesitatingly” adds the reassurance that “I will drink before you do.” Dollent gradually ferrets out that the three poisoned women, who had ostensibly died “of heart problems” during the preceding eight years, could have been victims of any one of the four surviving chateau residents: Monsieur Mordaut, his son Hector, his housekeeper Ernestine, or his maid Rose. Dollent advances to worrying that any or all four may become unwitting victims. Despite life insurance covering all the dead women with Mordaut as their beneficiary, Dollent projects he is a most unlikely suspect.