The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

When I read about the Read Christie 2019 Challenge hosted at – the idea being to tick off twelve books from twelve different categories over the course of the year – I was immediately tempted to join in. I didn’t want to think of it as a challenge as such, or make a definite commitment, but I thought I could use the monthly prompts to get through some of the many Christies I still haven’t read. This month’s category is “a recent TV adaptation” and the suggested book is The ABC Murders. I had started to watch the new BBC adaptation of The ABC Murders which was shown at Christmas, but struggled to get into it, so I thought I would try the book instead. And what a great book it is!

The murder of Alice Ascher in her small tobacconist shop in the town of Andover seems as though it should be an easy one to solve. There is an obvious culprit – the woman’s drunken husband – and he would certainly have been the prime suspect, if not for a mysterious coincidence which happened just days before the murder. Hercule Poirot had received a typewritten letter signed simply A.B.C. and warning of a crime to be committed in Andover on that particular date – and beside the body of the dead woman was a copy of the ABC Railway Guide.

But this will not be the only murder to take place:

‘I admit,’ I said, ‘that a second murder in a book often cheers things up. If the murder happens in the first chapter, and you have to follow up everybody’s alibi until the last page but one – well, it does get a bit tedious.’

When a similar letter arrives soon afterwards giving advance warning of a second murder which will happen in Bexhill, it doesn’t come as a surprise to Poirot when the second victim has a name beginning with B and when another ABC Guide is found next to the body. Convinced now that the killer is following an alphabetical pattern, Poirot must uncover his or her identity before they get all the way to Z.

This is one of several Poirot novels narrated by Captain Hastings (although there are a few chapters written from the perspective of other characters). I always seem to enjoy the ones with Hastings, partly because he, like the reader, is often in the dark and needs Poirot to explain things to him, but also because I think Poirot having a friend to discuss things with gives these books a different dynamic to the ones where he is working entirely on his own amongst strangers. Sometimes Hastings can make an observation or suggestion which proves to be useful later on, as he does once or twice in this book. Inspector Crome is investigating too, and a ‘legion’ of the victims’ families and friends is also formed to see whether they can shed any light on the situation.

What makes this book so intriguing is that each of the murders which takes place seems unrelated to the others, apart from the ABC theme and the letters sent to Poirot. They each have a separate set of suspects, all with their own motives, but what Poirot needs to do is find something which links them all to one man or woman – the mysterious A.B.C. I found this a particularly clever Christie novel and didn’t come close to solving it. I allowed myself to be sent in completely the wrong direction by the red herrings and took everything at face value; in fact, for a long time I thought I was reading a different sort of mystery entirely.

I loved this one and I think I did the right thing in reading it before trying to watch the adaptation again. I’m planning to read another Christie novel in February, although I don’t know what it will be yet – I’m waiting to see what the chosen category will be for the next stage of the challenge.

19 thoughts on “The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

  1. Jo says:

    One of her clever novels and far far better than the dreadful tv adaptation on at Christmas. If you can find the David Suchet version it is much more true to the book.

    It is always my aim to read more Agatha Christie just to get through hernlarge catalogue, this is a great challenge for doing it.

    • Helen says:

      I would probably prefer the David Suchet version. John Malkovich just isn’t right for Poirot in my opinion. And yes, I think this challenge should help me make some progress with Christie’s huge catalogue!

  2. Calmgrove says:

    I have to say that I did enjoy the tv adaptation (if one can really be said to enjoy murder and masochism), and while it wasn’t perfect by any means, and I’m sure took huge liberties with the original, there were nice psychological touches. I did however suspect early on *who* the murderer was, though the *how* of course eluded me.

  3. Café Society says:

    I’m glad to hear that the book is better than the adaptation, because for all I kept hearing it praised I was simply bored by it. I haven’t come across this challenge, but I might look it out. Not because I haven’t read pretty much everything Christie wrote, but because it is so long since I did that (probably forty years) that they are due for a revisit.

  4. Carmen says:

    Sounds like a clever mystery indeed, and I always enjoy a helpful sidekick, even if he/she has no clue they are helping 😉 . You made the right call in joining this challenge and reading this one. I look forward to February’s pick and your review of it.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, this challenge is perfect for me as there are still so many Agatha Christie books I want to read. I hope February’s book will be another good one.

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