14 August 2010

Review: THE ABC Murders, Agatha Christie

originally published by William Collins 1936
This version in Paul Hamlyn's Agatha Christie Crime Collection
pages 357-511 = 154 pages

A foreword to this story by Captain Arthur Hastings says
In this narrative of mine I have departed from my usual practice of relating only those incidents and scenes at which I myself was present. Certain chapters, therefore, are written in the third person.

Hastings returns to England from South America in June 1935 to put his finances in order. Mrs Hasting stays home to look after the ranch.  He finds Hercule Poirot installed in a new service flat in London - a sign of the times. Poirot looks remarkably well, his hair is blacker than Hastings expects (per favour of a bottle).

Poirot has tried to retire several times already but is fearful that his "little grey cells.. [will].. grow the rust". So now he only takes cases that are the "cream of crime". In his most recent case he says he had a narrow escape, he was nearly exterminated. He is however looking forward to teaming up again with Hastings.
I believe in luck - in destiny, if you will. It is your destiny to stand beside me and prevent me from committing the unforgiveable error.

With that he plucks from his papers a note he recently received signed A B C that challenges him, in quite unpleasant terms, to solving a mystery that will take place at Andover on the 21st of the month. Poirot fears the note may be referring to a murder.

Poirot consults his old friend Inspector Japp from Scotland Yard and so the police are alerted to look out for a murder in Andover on the 21st. This duly occurs. And elderly woman, a shop keeper is struck down in her shop, and the prime suspect, but for the letter to Poirot, would have been her estranged drunken sot of a husband.

This begins what appears to be a spree of killings, each with an alphabetical clue. In each case a copy of the ABC Railway Guide is left with the body. Poirot recognises this is different to the intime sort of crime he is usually called on to investigate - crimes committed by one member of a family against another. This killer appears to be psychotic and he is playing with Poirot's mind.

To help him solve the crime, or perhaps to keep an eye on them, Poirot calls together all the immediate family victims of the crimes, and turns them into a sort of vigilante band. This is an unusual step but quite in line with his usual strategies, where he will make at least one of the characters a confidante.

I could tell you much more, but you need to read it for yourself. As you can probably tell from the tone of what I've written above, I really enjoyed THE ABC MURDERS. There's an occasional sprinkling of humour - looking for the one about Hasting's "comb-over" - and there is tension built by Poirot's likening of the acts of a serial murderer to the roll of the dice on the roulette wheel. He says that eventually the murderer will make a mistake. We also have a red herring to contend with from almost the beginning of the story.

My rating: 4.6

Check these comments in various posts by Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

You might also enjoy these posts which have appeared on the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival
Read as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge. My 19th novel.


Anonymous said...

Kerrie - So glad you enjoyed this one! It's one of my favorites. And I have to say (I don't think I'll ruin the book for anyone) I truly like Megan Barnard's character in this story. She's quite well-drawn, I think. Thanks for this review : ).

Kerrie said...

Yes, this was a really enjoyable read Margot. It felt like AC had dropped some constraints too - there were even jokes - you know, like Hasting's thinning pate, HP's hair dye. I've noticed though that she published 3 novels in 1936 - that seems hugely prolific - any reason you know of - old manuscripts perhaps?

Unknown said...

I really loved this book by AC. The plot is ingenious and leaves you wondering the whole way through.


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