The A.B.C. Murders (Hercule Poirot #13), by Agatha Christie

Eight stars

Agatha Christie pens perhaps one of her most exciting pieces yet with this story, tossing Hercule Poirot into the middle of an investigation with a serial killer on the loose. The story takes many twists and keeps the reader enthralled until the very end, as Poirot is up against his most dashing criminal yet in a piece that offers no reprieve from the action. Some call it Christie’s best work and I would say it is one of the best I have read to date!

After Arthur Hastings returns to see his longtime friend, Hercule Poirot, the retired detective gets a letter in the post from a mysterious individual. The letter states that there will be a murder in the coming days and signs it with the elusive ‘A.B.C.’. Intrigued, Poirot waits and soon a report that Alice Asher has been bludgeoned in Andover comes across the wire. At the scene is an ABC Railway Guide, as if it is a clue to the foreboding letter. Poirot and Hastings can only wonder if there is more to come and how they will track this killer down.

While it is a while after Alice Asher, another body emerges with the same ABC guide next to it, similar alliteration accompanying the murder scene. Poirot is baffled and wonders if this will continue throughout the entire alphabet. While Hastings watches his friend work, he cannot help but wonder if Poirot has met his match.

After another murder, the police remain on edge and Poirot is stymied. More mocking letters arrive, but no clues accompany them, leaving the Belgian to grasp at straws. Still, there must be a connection to the victims, the locales, and the killer, even if Poirot cannot connect the dots. Twenty-six potential victims is too many and with four already complete, it will be a bloody mess should Poirot not clue in soon. Christie pushes her protagonist to the limit with this one, perhaps the most challenging piece to date.

Agatha Christie has rarely disappointed in the Poirot series, though her stories can sometimes ebb and flow as the novels pile up. This was a great one that had all the elements of a successful story and keeps the reader engaged until the very end, with a most mysterious murderer on the loose. A strong narrative with some interesting twists embedded in the telling, Christie delivers just at the right time to keep the reader wanting more.

As I have said many times before, Poirot is a great detective, but the reader learns little about him as a person or his life throughout these novels. While this is not turned on its head in this piece, there is a degree of testing the man’s mettle by developing a strong game of cat and mouse in this story. Poirot is not used to being toyed with, but there is no way he can escape the game set out for him. How he reacts provides the reader with a little more about the man’s patience and determination, even if one cannot call it true character development. Christie has certainly upped the ante when it come to her prized detective and I hope there is more pushing him out of his comfort zone soon.

Serial killers play such a prominent role in modern crime thrillers and mysteries, but this was the first time Agatha Christie used one for Poirot. It worked well and allowed for some interesting developments throughout. Christie’s narrative is strong and Arthur Hastings takes over for his first person telling of events, though there is an odd set of chapters that profess a third person, offering the reader insights not found in past books where Hastings led the recounting. I am not sure how I feel about it, as the overall story was great, even with these awkward moments. Short chapters propel the story forward and the characters found on each page provide some entertainment for the curious reader. I can only hope that there will be more of the recurring characters, as they bridge past novels with this one, though it is always worthwhile to see new faces add a certainly flavour to the piece. I am eager to see if Poirot will find more serial killers as the series progresses, or if a single killer and a key event will again be ruthless recipe for success.

Kudos, Dame Christie, for a new perspective. I am eager to see what’s coming and how you will top what you have already written.