The ABC Murders

Agatha Christie

Featuring Piorot, one of the Hound's greatest crime fighters, The ABC Murders is so named because the victims are killed alphabetically.

 

First is Alice Ascher, a shopkeeper in Andover, bludgeoned to death at her place of work. Next to die is Miss Bernard in Bexhill, then Mr. Clarke in Churston. More disturbing than the alphabetic sequence of the killings (or the ABC Railway guide that the killer leaves at the crime scenes) are the taunting notes warning Hercule Poirot before each murder.

 

Classic Christie.

 

On the shop’s counter is an ABC train schedule. The most likely suspect is her husband Franz Ascher, but he cannot be connected with the note, and he can account for his time. So the police decide to at least consider that the murder was committed by someone else. No real progress is made on the case, though.

Then, Poirot receives another warning note, and another murder occurs, this time in the seaside town of Bexhill. The victim is twenty-three-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Barnard, a waitress at a local café. She’s found strangled on the beach, and again, an ABC is found near her body. Her boyfriend Donald Fraser is a suspect; he’s the jealous type, and he and Betty had quarreled more than once about her habit of flirting with other men. But he can’t be connected either with the note or the ABC.

Poirot receives a third warning, and then there’s a third murder. Now it looks very much as though there’s a serial killer at work.

Two points of view come together in a very surprising way and, in true Christie fashion, there’s an unexpected twist that even the astute reader could miss.

Another element woven through this novel is the reality of teamwork in police investigation. On one hand, everyone who’s investigating the crimes has the same goal of catching the murderer. However, they’re all quite different and from different agencies, so there’s bound to be a little friction. This lends an important touch of realism to the story; different police agencies do have to work together at times, and they don’t always co-operate perfectly.

Stereotypes and prejudices also seem to be woven through The ABC Murders. One of these is the prejudice against foreigners. In fact, Poirot brings up that point as he tries to figure out why the warning notes have been sent to him rather than, say to the police or to a major newspaper. He believes that the killer takes pleasure in “…scoring off a foreigner.”

The dual points of view, the tension of different agencies trying to work together. and the misdirection caused by prejudice are all used in this novel to move the story along and keep the reader engaged.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

About Agatha Christie:

The biggest selling novelist of all time, Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, was born in Torquay, Devon, England, U.K., as the youngest of three.

During the First World War, she worked at a hospital as a nurse; later working at a hospital pharmacy, a job that influenced her work, as many of the murders in her books are carried out with poison.

On Christmas Eve 1914 Agatha married Archibald Christie, an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps. The couple had one daughter, Rosalind Hicks. They divorced in 1928, two years after Christie discovered her husband was having an affair.

Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, came out in 1920. During this marriage, Agatha published six novels, a collection of short stories, and a number of short stories in magazines.

To honour her many literary works, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1956 New Year Honours. The next year, she became the President of the Detection Club. In the 1971 New Year Honours she was promoted Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.  

The ABC Murders begins with Captain Hastings making a visit to London after his move to Argentina. He’s happily re-united with his old friend Hercule Poirot, and is visiting Poirot when Poirot receives a cryptic note that a crime will take place in Andover. The note is specific about the date, and is signed “ABC.” At first, Hastings passes the note off as an “..idiotic kind of hoax.”

Poirot isn’t as sure, but he hopes that Hastings is right. The note turns out to be tragically prophetic when the body of Alice Ascher is found in the small sweetshop/news agency she kept.