This novel was chosen as my L2 entry (“One Book that has been made into a Movie or TV Show”) on the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo Golden Age Card for 3 reasons – it is one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels, it has an unusual narrative structure and it is has been dramatised in some interesting & different ways.
The novel follows the murders of the title and their investigation as seen by Hastings, Poirot’s old friend. Before each murder, Poirot receives typed letters signed by A.B.C. giving the date and location of the next murder which move alphabetically – Alice Ascher is a tobacco shop owner who is killed in her shop in Andover, Betty Barnard is a flirty waitress killed in Bexhill and Sir Carmichael Clarke is a wealthy man killed at his home in Churston. With each victim is left a copy of an ABC railway guide.
The unusual structure is that each chapter is narrated by Hastings followed by a description of events in the life of Alexander Bonaparte Cust, a travelling salesman who received a head injury in the Great War and is subject to memory blackouts and constant headaches. This third-person narrative is supposedly reconstructed by the first-person narrator, Hastings continuing Christie’s commitment to experimenting with points of view as seen most famously in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
I like the ABC Murders because it is a chase novel with multiple mysteries – Is Cust ABC? Does he know if he is ABC? If he isn’t then who is? Why are the murders occurring? Can Poirot prevent a murder and break the sequence?
There are 3 contrasting TV/Movie adaptations that spring to mind
There is the 1965 film The Alphabet Murders with Tony Randall as Hercule Poirot which does emphasise comedy (and has a rather buffoonish Poirot) but I still quite like it as a film although Agatha Christie had some major issues with the script which is why Zero Mostel dropped out (for scheduling reasons) and was replaced by Tony Randall.
There is the 1992 TV version with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot which is much more faithful to the novel albeit with some minor changes and characters omitted mainly to fit in the time constraint of the broadcast slot available.
Finally, there is the 2009 version in the French TV series Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie entitled Les meurtres ABC which takes some very substantial liberties with the concept of Poirot (slightly less so with the story) and is also fairly comedic – it is Agatha Christie but not as we usually know it; this is one episode of the series that is available with English subtitles on DVD. I personally have a soft spot for this series (especially the later ones with Inspector Swan & Alice Avril (a Journalist)) but it is not one for the purists.