book review: The A.B.C. Murders, by Agatha Christie

a serial killer who leaves train guides with the bodies

In this novel, Poirot is rejoined by his old, marvelously obtuse friend Hastings (whom we haven’t seen since Lord Edgeware Dies, four novels ago, since when he has been at his ranch in Argentina). A serial murder goes on the rampage, sending challenging letters to Poirot in the process, and Poirot and Hastings are on the trail!

Hastings hasn’t gotten any smarter, but that’s not particularly unrealistic; I’m not sure that hanging out with a great detective would make me any more of a great detective myself, either.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the intertextuality. I’m a total sucker for references, even if they’re fictional – I loved the references in Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics and still loved them (albeit less) after figuring out that most were invented. Hastings comes to visit Poirot, and Poirot suggests that it would be very nice to have a really interesting, challenging murder to solve together. Hastings talks about how multiple murders would be better, as having one murder at the beginning followed by a long ruling out of suspects can be tiresome (which seemed a reference to the recent and lovely Death in the Clouds). At some point Poirot mentions that he recent almost got killed himself (an allusion to Three Act Tragedy), Poirot reminds Hastings how love can be found in the context of murder (an allusion to Hastings’ finding his own wife in Murder on The Links), etc.

A minor annoyance is that Christie tries so hard to make Hastings the real narrator that she has a big explanation at the beginning about how it is that Hastings is narrating certain things he didn’t observe; I think it’d have been better simply to drop Hasting’s role (or leave those things out), but it clearly wasn’t my call!

I found the ending a little unsatisfying although I cannot put my finger on way. Christie had me completely fooled as to who the murderer was, multiple times, but somehow the final identity left me less convinced than some, like the last book (Death in the Clouds). But it was an entertaining read for my hotel in Tanzania.

Next comes Murder in Mesopotamia, but I think I need a little break from Poirot. Little Dorrit, anyone?

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