” It is not the facts I reflect upon—but the mind of the murderer. . . I begin to see—not what you would like to see—the outlines of a face and form but the outlines of a mind. A mind that moves and works in a certain definite directions. “(Ch.17, p.117)
The A.B.C. Murders is considered one of Christie’s finest works, not so much a mystery than a detective fiction. Think of it as a brilliant perception of the murderer’s mind on the part of Hercule Poirot. The book features Captain Arthur Hastings as the narrator who goes into details the personal relationships that arise as a consequence of the strange series of crimes.
The chase begins when Poirot receives a typewritten letter, on fine stationery he emphasizes, from a Mr. ABC informing him about the murder he is going to commit—given the exact date and place of the crime. While Poirot’s sixth sense (and experience) tells him to take this man seriously, the police dismisses the matter as a hoax. But, Poirot is proved right when an old lady shopkepper named Alice Ascher is found murdered in Andover. Mr. ABC proceeds, unlike a serial killer who randomly removes anyone in his way, in a neat alphabetical order as if he wants to assert his personality. The second letter is followed by the murder of a young waitress named Elizabeth Bernard in Bexhill-on-Sea—the B murder as promised on the agenda.
ABC is no fool, even if he is a madman. (Ch.21, p.153)
Now that a serial killer is on the loose, working his way through the alphabet, the whole country is in panic. The third letter however goes astray and reaches Poirot only on the morning of the day of the murder. Poirot and the police reach the house of Sir Carmichael Clarke in Churston only to find him murdered in the woods. All three victims are distinctly different. The ABC has left only one apparent clue with the dead body of every victim—-ABC railway timetable guides.
In my opinion the strength of his obsession is such that he must attempt to carry out his promise! Not to do so would be admit failure, and that his insane egoism would never allow. (Ch.23, p.168)
While Poirot interviews the families of victims, he observes that, in every case, there is at least one person who has motve to be the murderer. Parallel to this investigation is a Mr. Alexander Bonaparte Cust, an old, dim-witted, ordinary salesman of stockings. Cust is a war veteran who has sustained head injury and epilepsy. He is deemed the lunatic killer when it’s been revealed that he was present in all the towns where the crimes took place. But he didn’t remember any details.
The A.B.C. Murders showcases Hercule Poirot’s finesse in detective skills. Instead of taking the face value of superficial facts, Poirot digs deeper into the murderer’s mind, knowing the series of crimes and the psychology do not match up. Christie obviously is not afraid of adopting avant-garde approaches to the detective genre. She constantly befuddles reader and even Poirot himself. Instead of the usual “whodunit” approach, the psychology of the crime has been given more prominence. The whole novel has me thinking whether the crimes are indeed the doing of a mad man, or the other way? What is so particularly brilliant about this book is that while red herrings abound, the reader is left wondering at the end how one can have missed the obvious solution.
252 pp. William Morrow. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]