#9 - The ABC Murders9. The ABC Murders (1936)

Hercule Poirot #12

Poirot, Hastings and Japp hunt a sadistic serial killer.

Looking at each of the six Poirot novels in the Top Ten, it’s almost impossible to pick a true favourite. Each of them exemplifies one or more elements of the Belgian’s appeal, of Christie’s appeal, and indeed of the strength of crime fiction as a genre.Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is a marvellous example of the cruelty lurking beneath the facade of English propriety, and The ABC Murders is Poirot’s best mystery-cum-thriller. Reunited with both Hastings and Japp, Poirot is part of a dynamic trio of investigators this time around, and – fighting a serial killer who moves across the country, against the clock – all three of them are put to great use. (The adaptation of The ABC Murders was one of the strongest of the early David Suchet Poirot movies, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one of the strongest impetuses for doing the series in the first place.)

As the killer openly taunts Poirot, and the ‘A’ and ‘B’ murders give way to a ‘C’, and then a ‘D’, a genuine sense of terror is built up: anyone in England could be next, safe only once their initials have been passed. This is not just a situation out of hand after one murder, or a country house with a limited number of suspects and victims: anyone Poirot meets could be either killer or killed, and the lack of connections between the victims – a trope which usually, if it exists at all, is solved early on – disconcerts us as much as it does Poirot.

Beyond this, there is the novel’s slightly unusual narrative structure, contrasting Hastings’ own in-the-moment point-of-view, with a ‘reconstructed’ third person narrative. It’s unorthodox, very Bleak House, and adds to the uneasy atmosphere that pervades the entire book. The ABC Murders is, simply, an early Christie masterpiece, filled with terror, immaculately constructed, and utilising all three of our leads, as well as the various suspects and hangers-on, to perfection.

Rating: 9.5/10

Poirot ranking: 5th of 38

Next time: yet another Poirot novel breaches the Top 10, when the detective is invited to a most unusual game of bridge…