It has been a while since I last read a novel by Agatha Christie. Back in 2017, I read the first six books in the Hercule Poirot series and really liked The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Most of the rest were good 3-star mysteries too, but I never warmed up to Poirot, so when I started to follow the British Library Crime Classics series, this just took a back seat.
But now with The A.B.C. Murders TV adaptation on Amazon, I wanted to read the novel before watching it. When And Then There Were None miniseries came in, I made the mistake of watching it before reading the novel – I loved the miniseries so much so that I still haven’t been able to get its ending out of my head to read the mystery. So this time around, I didn’t want to repeat my mistake!
The A.B.C. Murders is the thirteenth book in the Poirot series. The year is 1935, and Captain Hastings who usually chronicles Poirot’s escapades is in London for six months away from his wife and ranch in South America (I will have to read Book #7-#12 to find out how Hastings got hitched! I wonder if they met during a case like Dr Watson and Mary in Sherlock Holmes…) Poirot has retired for the umpteenth time to grow vegetable marrows. However, it looks like Poirot will have to come out of retirement once again when a mysterious letter arrives at his London apartment.
This letter, typewritten on fancy stationery and signed ABC, warns Poirot of a crime that is going to happen in Andover on 21st of June and taunts Poirot to catch the criminal. The tone of the letter does not sit well with Poirot who wants to take it seriously when Inspector Japp suggests otherwise. But of course, Poirot’s instincts are proven correct when an old lady by the name of Alice Ascher is found dead in Andover on the same night, with an A.B.C. Railroad Guide next to her body. Baffled by this crime, the police hopes this murder is an isolated incident – better yet a coincidence! But when Poirot receives another letter, it becomes clear as daylight that there’s a serial killer on a rampage, who is working his way through the alphabet!
Reading The A.B.C. Murders made me realize my view of Poirot still hasn’t changed – he is uppity as ever! However, that annoyance aside, The A.B.C. Murders is a brilliant mystery which, in my view, is on par with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I liked how Poirot worked the physiological aspect of these murders. Throughout the novel, Poirot relentlessly tries to understand why ABC chose him to be the adversary, and it is what helps him to catch the culprit in the end.
Moving on to the TV show, I feel like I would have liked it better if I hadn’t read the book. In the TV show Poirot is despised by the police, and since both Hastings and Inspector Japp are out, Poirot has no friends as he attempts to solve the murders. Also, even though the TV show mostly faithful to the essence of the novel, its reinterpretations are much darker adding to the story’s grim and depressing vibe. I would not recommend watching this during mealtimes!
I would also like to address one of the complaints leveled against the producers. Some of the naysayers aren’t pleased with the attention the TV show pays to social problems, specifically xenophobia – they believe the producers are trying to politicize Christie’s novel. I’m not sure what this fuss is all about as Christie subtly sheds light to England’s anti-immigrant sentiments in The A.B.C. Murders. (Poirot’s past as depicted in the TV show, however, is not part of the novel)
I feel Christie’s explanation as to why ABC is obsessed with Poirot is makes more sense than the TV show’s reasoning. Because of that, in my view, the book is the winner!
Note: Many thanks to William Morrow Paperbacks for sending me a copy of The A.B.C. Murders.