>> Saturday, September 15, 2012
Ascher in Andover, Barnard in Bexhill, Clarke in Churston – all are dead, each with an ABC Railway Guide found beside the body. A serial killer is on the loose, one who is determined to play games with the great Hercule Poirot. But can the Belgian detective come to grips with the mind of a psychopath? With the help of Hastings and Japp, Poirot must travel the length and breadth of England. Is he always destined to be too late?I grew up reading Agatha Christie. My mum has a whole shelf with most, if not all, of Christie's books. I can still see them in my mind, 5 novels a volume, bound in red, and printed in really thin, almost Bible-like paper. I worked my way through them, from beginning to end, and loved them. I haven't reread many of them since then, and I've decided I'll do more of that.
Visiting England from his ranch in Argentina, Hastings, Poirot's longtime chronicler, finds his friend preoccupied by an anonymous letter announcing an upcoming murder. A man of his fame gets a number of strange letters, but Poirot finds something in this particular one that makes him worry. He's right; soon enough, Alice Asher, who runs a newsagent, is found murdered in Andover, with an ABC Railway Guide lying open next to her. When, following similar taunting letters, Betty Barnard is killed in Bexhill, and Sir Carmichael clarke is murdered in Churston, both with ABC guides found near the body, it becomes clear that something unheard of is going on.
To me (and I guess, to most readers), Agatha Christie is closely associated with domestic, cozy murder mysteries. She's done the odd international conspiracy-type thriller, which I never found particularly successful, but this seems to be something completely different. Serial killer books are a dime a dozen these days -is this a very early entry in the genre by Christie's? Well, all I'll say is that there's more to things than meets the eye, and I don't think anyone will be surprised by that.
I read this book many, many years ago, and I guess it must have made an impression, because I remembered the shape of the solution, if not the details. I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I'd had no idea of what was going on, but even taking out the element of surprise, it was a fun read.
As always, I loved the setting, and all the more because Christie was just writing a contemporary novel, so the glimpses of a bygone era all feel really natural and matter-of-fact.
MY GRADE: A B+.