I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Agatha Christie is a sure-fire way to cure your bookish blues. After taking a long time to read Monsters, I knew that I had to do something drastic to get me back into reading. On Sunday I stuck on the audiobook version of this novel and didn’t turn it off until the end. I listened as I took my week’s Instagram photos and went about my general weekend business. It’s always glorious listening to a Christie audiobook. Not that it isn’t glorious reading it yourself but there’s something about an audiobook that just enhances the cosiness. Regardless of the reason, as soon as I was finished, I felt much better about life and reading. I’m renewed and ready to get a few more books off my TBR this month.
The thing about serial killers is that they tend to be formulaic. They generally don’t pick their victims at random and will have a reason for everything they do. Whether it’s a shared trait, something in their history, or a gender issue, serial killers take care to pick the right person to kill. Except, it seems, ABC in Agatha Christie’s mystery. When the bodies start appearing, it looks as though the only thing the deceased have in common is that they were killed. The killer doesn’t even choose the same method to murder them all. Thankfully retired detective, Hercule Poirot is on hand to help solve the case with his old friends Colonel Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp.
This isn’t the first time that Hercule has been convinced to come out of retirement to track down a killer. He does so now because he starts to receive letters from the killer announcing his crimes in advance. The first letter informs Poirot that a crime will be committed soon. On the day in question, Alice Ascher is killed in her tobacco shop in Andover. Alongside the body, the police find a copy of the ABC Rail Guide, which Poirot sees as an obvious link to his letter writer. The next murders are waitress Betty Barnard on the beach at Bexhill and Sir Carmichael Clarke at his home in Churston. It’s clear that a pattern is emerging. Can Poirot figure out the puzzle before the killer gets to D?
The ABC Murders is often included on lists of the best Agatha Christie novels and it’s easy to see why. It feels very different to the majority of her works. For one thing, the story is told through a combination of first-person narrative and third-person narrative. For The ABC Murders, the third-person is presented as being reconstructed by Colonel Hastings to make up for the gaps in his own narrative. It’s a really interesting approach and does add an extra level of authenticity to proceedings. It gives Hastings’ narration the feel of an official account or report. Is it a little clumsy in some areas? Yes but it does make this novel stand out from Christie’s other works. It’s a technique that she had previously used in The Man in the Brown Suit but it is still an unusual structure of her books.
Obviously, it’s not just the structure that makes this so pleasing. The actual mystery is one of her more intricate puzzles. It might not offer the most unsolvable mystery ever but Christie does everything she can to cover up the truth. There are plenty of great red herrings and the ABC aspect really takes you on a journey. She’s certainly written more mind-blowing twists before but this is still a memorable ending. And talk about red herrings. I guess this is pretty iconic in its own way. More than any other Poirot mystery, the journey is what’s important here. Watching the great Belgian take on a mysterious serial killer is exciting and gives him a real Moriarty-esque nemesis.
I admit that I’m never much of a fan of Hastings’ narration and think there are far too many asides about the woes of being a pretty young woman. However, even this aspect of the novel can’t ruin it. This is one of Christie’s best and will have something for every type of reader. It offers a puzzle to solve, it has deep and complex characters, and it is thoroughly entertaining. An easy read but one that could very easily leave you bewildered. Of course, this being Agatha, you know that she will always have things under control. In the end, the mysteries always seem as simple as a, b, c.
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