Author: Agatha Christie
Rating: 3 stars
Dates read: 03 Jan 20 – 08 Jan 20
Publication date: 06 Jan 1936
Publisher: Collins Crime Club
Genre(s): Mystery, Classic
There’s a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card he leaves beside each victim’s corpse the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught – until he makes the crucial and vain mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans
I like me some mystery. I like me some murders. I like me some readable classics. Agatha Christie, without a doubt, ticks these boxes and reading her is always a pleasant experience. I see this book adapted and discussed by many people on a regular basis but I have never really dived into experiencing Hercule Poirot too much in written form, so I decided it was high time I read another of her Poirot mysteries.
The book itself was a usual, quaint, Agatha Christie mystery that we know and come back for. The books operated on a simple premise – Poirot is mailed a letter with a date and place on, and on said date and place, a person is murdered. The person and place also follow and alphabetic pattern, so Alice Ascher is murdered in Andover, Betty Barnard is murdered in Bexhill, and so on and so forth. The more murders that happen and the more people interviewed and involved, the more patterns that emerge and fuel the narrative.
Poirot is his usual know-it-all and investigative self, and is quite a riot throughout. His passing judgements on the side-characters were amusing, and his prowess as a private investigator was evident throughout, noticing things and characteristics that policeman and inspectors were missing left, right, and centre. Captain Hastings was the reader’s relief, the voice of reason or questioning, and very much followed and worked out the pace of the story at the same time as the reader.
The story tracked quite well, the events following cryptic and foreboding notes that hinted where the next murder would took place. The book took off at a quick place, following the investigators and a man by the name of Alexander Bonaparte Cust, who the reader is set up to believe is the A.B.C murderer from the start. Honestly, at this point there has been decades since the book came out and adaptations on screen so I think we’re passed spoilers, so I can say that I was quite relieved that it wasn’t just him. I kinda guessed it wouldn’t be, and I was glad that Christie had cleverly set him up as a patsy, both for the murderer and for the reader.
A.B.C, the patsy not the murderer, was definitely mentally ill, and I wasn’t quite sure this would still stand today. Utilising mental illness to create the belief that not only the guy is the murderer, but that he believes he is too, is probably over a line in the sand these days (and not wrongly) but was well written. The fragility of the mind, the presence and consequences of grief, and the associated desperation to produce information that might help the case created a complex web of ‘facts’ that the reader, and indeed the investigators, was unable to ascertain credibility for. This allowed the uncertainty to mask the twist that we hadn’t been following the murder at all.
There will always be a part of me that finds Agatha Christie a little quaint and gentle, most likely because she is the domineering name in the ‘cosy mystery’ subgenre. I can’t read too many at once, because their gentle pace and lack of pure action bothers me, but there is an undeniable cleverness and humour to her writing that elevates these books above that of a normal mystery and have made her name last this long, and this book is no different.