Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

The A.B.C. Murders – Agatha Christie

Classic Crime Fiction
5*s

Hercule Poirot in this, the thirteenth book written about him by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, is according to our dear friend Captain Hastings, a wee bit bored with no juicy crimes to solve. How fortunate then that he should receive an anonymous letter from someone signing themselves A.B.C.

I can’t say any more about this book without commenting on the then relatively unused style of alternating between a first person narrative by Captain Hastings and third person narrative provided by the same Captain Hastings but pertaining to be from another character. Needless to say we are now used to our author’s playing games with viewpoints but back in 1936 when the book was first published it was quite unexpected, but apparently well received.

Of course despite Hasting’s speculation that the event foretold in Andover may well be a burglary, Poirot is sure it will be murder, and of course he is right. Mrs Alice Ascher is killed in her ‘cheap’ tobacco and paper shop and left on the counter is a copy of the ABC railway timetable.

One of the things that has most enchanted me re-reading these novels is the very thing that passed me by when I first discovered them as a child. Whilst the murder mystery itself easily stands the test of time there is something about the everyday items and attitudes that surface now and again which instantly makes you realise this was first read, possibly by my grandparents when they were far younger than I am now! I mean you barely hear about maps nowadays let alone a book of railway timetables that people actually went and purchased! Although apparently my internet research indicates that there was a reprint done in 2010 named abc Guide for railway enthusiasts.

After Mrs Ascher’s death Inspector Crome, aware of the anonymous letter which saves the drunken errant husband of the deceased woman from suspicion, is condescending towards Poirot but he manfully rises above it, resplendent with his dyed hair and full moustache. Soon Poirot gets another letter indicating that the next murder will happen in Bexhill and challenging Poirot to solve the case. It’s fair to say the police don’t have a clue and nor does it seem that Poirot has much idea which direction to proceed except to chase around the country by train to the destinations given in the letters, but he has the victim’s family and friends to keep him busy while he waits…

A little later in the book it is commented on that each of the victims, I don’t think I’m giving much away to say we got passed the letter C, had their own little drama going on that would make for a good story, and it’s true. One of the delights is the varied age and disposition of the victims and their families which almost defies the long-held belief that Agatha Christie isn’t great at developing her characters as she certainly packs enough into this little book to satisfy this reader. A particular mention has to be given to  the wonderful Doctor Thomson who is intent on profiling the killer – again who knew that such methods were around in the 1930s?

Of course with the crimes happening up and down the country although always in places where a traveller has a convenient railway station to alight and depart from, the traditional gathering in the drawing-room to reveal the killer isn’t quite possible, but fear not, Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells does not disappoint in the dénouement.

So this book having been purchased in Bath in November 2017 is the first entry on my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 and earns me one-third of a book token.

 

 

First Published UK: 1936
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages: 331
Genre: Crime Fiction – Classic
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Hickory Dickory Dock – Agatha Christie

Hickory Dickory Dock
4*’s Crime Fiction

This is one of my finds from the book sale chosen because although I’ve read many of her books I don’t actually own any.

Hickory Dickory Dock was first published in the UK in 1955 and was the first full length story to feature Hercule Poirot’s ultra-efficient secretary Miss Felicity Lemon, although she had previously appeared in some of short stories featuring the Belgium detective.

When Miss Lemon makes an uncharacteristic mistake, or three, in a letter Poirot realises that something is amiss with his usually precise secretary. His questioning leads him to discover that Felicity Lemon has a life outside her work, and she is troubled by a problem her sister is having. The delightfully named Mrs Hubbard is the warden of a boarding house in Hickory Road, London. Items have gone missing and others have been destroyed.

Fortunately, Poirot doesn’t have any murders to solve and is at a bit of a loose end so he decides to lend a helping hand. When he meets Mrs Hubbard he congratulates her “unique and beautiful problem.” As in the best Christie tradition the number of suspects is contained to those living or working in the house and as their lives are gently probed by the detective secrets are revealed. Soon there is a death and as tensions in the house reach fever-pitch Poirot is determined to find the perpetrator.

As much as I enjoyed the story, I found this book equally fascinating as a snapshot of the time it was set in. The boarding house is home to a number of students, both English and foreign with the house split in half to ensure proprietary between the sexes although they all mixed on the communal ground floor. There are frequent references to communists and the way some of the foreign residents are portrayed made me wince at times, not just because of what was said but because the author was clearly writing for her audience and the prevailing views of the times. However this book also features more modern crimes with the police grappling with drug smuggling which I hadn’t realised was a concern in the 1950’s.

This is a clever little puzzle with the clues available for the amateur sleuth to attempt to compete with the brilliant mind of my favourite detective, Poirot.