Ethel Mummery is Mr. Mummery’s wife. She is younger than her husband, and her actions make her seem childlike and incapable of taking care of herself. In reality, she is manipulative and deceitful, both in her affair with Welbeck and in poisoning her husband. Mr. Mummery, however, treats her as a delicate, fragile creature who must be protected. After having a nervous breakdown the previous summer, she spends most of her time lying down and relaxing. The year before, however, she had participated in the Drama Society, and she intends to do so again. Like her husband, Ethel has not been feeling well lately, but her illness manifests itself through headaches and her general feeling of tiredness. The only time she demonstrates any energy or excitement is with Welbeck.
Mr. Mummery is the protagonist of the story. According to the narrator, he has a rather uninteresting life. His hobbies include gardening. He also enjoys reading about the murders committed by Mrs. Andrews, because they give him “an agreeable thrill of vicarious adventure.” Mr. Mummery is devoted to his wife, but he treats her less like a wife than a child. When in her presence, he refers to himself in the third person, and he handles all the household affairs. Mr. Mummery’s rather dim intellect is challenged when he comes to believe that Mrs. Sutton is poisoning him and his wife. He examines the clues, but instead of informing the police, he decides to investigate the matter himself. He actually takes no action until the cocoa is heavily dosed with arsenic. Although Mr. Mummery eventually “solves” the crime, he does so more through fortunate occurrence than by clever detection.
Mrs. Sutton is the Mummerys’ new cook. She has only been working for them for a month. She came to them without references, for she had previously been caring for her elderly mother. Mr. Mummery comes to suspect that she is poisoning him and his wife.
Welbeck is the son of the Mummerys’ neighbor, Mrs. Welbeck. He participates in the Drama Society along with Ethel. He and Ethel have been having an affair.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Dorothy L. Sayers, Published by Gale Group, 2001.