The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser

A great narration of a true classic…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

the-abc-murdersWhen Captain Hastings comes back on a trip to London from his new home in the Argentine, he hastens round to visit his old friend, Hercule Poirot. After they’ve done a bit of catching up, Poirot shows Hastings a bizarre letter he has received, warning that a crime will be committed on a certain date in Andover. When the day comes, so does news of a murder – Alice Ascher, the owner of a small newsagents, has been found dead, with a copy of the ABC railway guide lying beside her body. Poirot and Hastings head to Andover, and soon find that Mrs Ascher’s drunken husband had every reason to want her dead, and would surely be arrested for the crime were it not for the strange coincidence of the letter. Some weeks pass before Poirot receives a second letter, this time warning of a murder to take place in Bexhill and, sure enough, a body turns up on the due date, along with another copy of the ABC. Poirot is already suspicious that this murderer is working to an alphabetical plan; a suspicion that is confirmed when the third letter speaks of Churston…

This is a rather typical Agatha Christie story – typically brilliant, that is. It has everything that makes her books such a joy: intriguing clues, plenty of suspects all with strong motives, lots of red herrings and misdirection, and, of course, the hugely entertaining interplay between Poirot and Hastings. It is narrated by Hastings, partly in the first person for the sections where he was present himself, and the rest in the third person, which he tells us he reconstructed from accounts from Poirot and other people.

There are possible suspects for each of the crimes – relatives, lovers and so on – but Poirot must find the link that connects them all. Chief Inspector Japp is always happy to have help from his little Belgian friend, and some of the suspects get together to offer their assistance too, so that they can have justice for the dead and also get out from under the cloud of suspicion that is hovering over them.

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie

People sometimes sneer at Christie for working to a “formula” but I say, if a formula works so well, then why not? There are some things in this one that I feel are standard Christie, and they add as much to the enjoyment here as they do in so many of her other books. Her victims are carefully chosen so that we hope for justice for them, while not having to go through too much of the angst of grief. Poirot and Hastings spend much of their time interviewing people until Poirot’s little grey cells give him the solution, which he then reveals at a get-together of all the suspects. The tone is lightened by the warmth of Hastings’ narration – his occasional humour at Poirot’s expense never hiding the warm regard he feels for his friend. And although Poirot is obviously more intelligent than Inspector Japp, the police are never shown as bumbling incompetents. There is a general respect in the books that makes Christie’s world a pleasure to visit, and despite the similarities in tone and structure, the plots are different and original enough to make each book feel unique.

The plot of this one is beautifully complex and elegantly simple at the same time – a true Christie trait – so that when the solution finally comes, it seems both fiendishly clever and satisfyingly obvious. This is a major part of Christie’s success, I think – her “twists” are an untangling of a complicated knot, rather than the sudden introduction of some new layer of hitherto unsuspected silliness, as with so much contemporary crime. Her denouements don’t so much make one gasp with stunned disbelief as nod with satisfaction at the logical working out, and grin with pleasure at her cleverness in first hiding and then revealing her clues.

I listened to the Audible version of this, narrated by Hugh Fraser, whom Christie fans will recognise as the actor who played Hastings to David Suchet’s Poirot in the long-running ITV series. Fraser does a marvellous job – he captures the tone of the books perfectly, bringing out the humour and the warmth of the friendship between Poirot and Hastings. He has a lovely speaking voice and, though he doesn’t “act” all the parts, he differentiates enough between the characters so that it’s easy to follow who’s speaking. Obviously, when he’s reading Hastings’ dialogue, he sounds just like Hastings. But remarkably, when Poirot is speaking, he sounds just like Suchet’s Poirot! I guess Fraser must have spent long enough listening to Suchet do it that he has mastered a faultless impersonation. It gives the narration a wonderful familiarity for fans of the TV adaptations.

hastings-and-poirot

So to conclude, one of Christie’s finest, enhanced by a fabulous narration – I promptly shot off back to Audible and used up all my spare credits on getting as many of Fraser’s Poirot readings as I could, and happily he has done loads of them. My highest recommendation for both book and reading – perfect entertainment!

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

PS One thing that really bugs me is that the cover, which I otherwise love, has bullet holes on the letters. No-one gets shot in this story. FF’s Seventh Law: Cover artists should read the book before designing the cover.

77 thoughts on “The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie read by Hugh Fraser

  1. I don’t need to tell how much I adore Agatha Christie and, also, the magnificent Hugh Fraser! This is one of my favourite Poirot novels, as you say – classic Christie. People may sneer at her, but she is undoubtedly the best and she makes it seem so effortless, too. This is the best possible start to the week, FF! 🙂

    • Ha! Yes, just when you think you’ve got her formula all worked out, she goes and changes it! That’s what makes her so much fun 😀 My list of laws seems to be growing exponentially… 😉

  2. An excellent review. I remember when reading the book, it wasn’t one of my favourites but it went from strength to strength. My firm favourite will always be The Murder of Roger Ackroyd … even if I think I spelt that wrong!

    • Yes, I see what you mean but, avoiding spoilers if I can, I felt that when it ended it actually turned out to be more like her other ones than it looked as if it was going to be, if that makes any sense. But although she does sorta have a formula, I still think all her books feel different from each other – the strength of the plotting, I think…

        • The odd thing is that even though I know a lot of her books bear a lot of similarities, I never really pick up on them when I’m reading them – I think I just find her writing so easy and comfortable that I’m willing to go with the flow… 🙂

          • Me, too! The other odd thing – for me – is that it doesn’t seem to matter if I’ve read the book before. I frequently still can’t really remember whodunnit, and if I do remember, I don’t care because I enjoy the setting and the brilliant plotting of the book and her cleverness and the pervasive sense of place and time so much!

            • Haha! I’m exactly the same! There’s only about three of the books I can always remember whodunit, because they were so unique, but the rest I can read again and again and still not be sure – it’s great! I think she’s like Wodehouse – her world is nicer than the real one despite the murder rate, so makes a great place to visit…

  3. Ah, you were lucky to hear the Hugh Fraser version, FictionFan. He’s not just skilled; he’s a lovely person, too. And of course, the story is a corker. I do really like the way you described it: a complex, but quite simple plot. I’ve always thought this one of Christie’s better ones. And I’m so glad you enjoyed as well as you did.

    • He’s great at narrating these – I expect working so long on the series has really given him an understanding of the Christie style. This wouldn’t have been one I first thought of when asked for favourites, but I think I must just have forgotten how good it is – definitely up there with her best, especially in terms of plotting.

  4. I haven’t read any of Agatha’s work in English yet, but you made me want to rush to Audible 🙂 I totally agree on the formula; it works, it’s good, why not use it and make the best of it?

    • Would this be a bad time to mention she was incredibly prolific…? 😉 Definitely one for your list though – her books really stand up well to the passage of time, unlike some of the Golden Age authors…

    • It’s actually much better than I remembered – it hadn’t really been one of my favourites, but is now! Urgh! I hate when the covers make it so obvious the artist hasn’t read the book! 😉

  5. My all-time favourite Poirot – my copy has been read so often it’s disintegrating1
    And I so agree about covers – my (un)favourite is the cover of an otherwise inoffensive thriller which has a scantily clad young lady on the cover. The only woman in the book is in her seventies, and trust me, she keeps all her clothes on! I often think of the disappointment experienced by those who chose by the cover, and not because they liked the author.

    • I wouldn’t have graded it as a favourite before this re-read/listen but I think I must just have forgotten how good it was. It’s definitely up there with the best of them. I love these narrations – he does them so well! 😀

      • I like that law!!!! 🙂 This has actually got me excited about reading some more of hers now – it’s been far too long and I always love them. Draw up that petition and I’ll be the first to sign… ;0

        • Every time I get around to re-reading one of them, I wonder why I don’t do it more often! They’re so much fun. Maybe next year I’ll set myself a Christie challenge or something… 🙂

  6. A brilliant review of a great sounding narration. You’ve really selected the things I love best about Agatha Christie, that seemingly oh so easy laying out of the facts whilst the plot itself is complex and how frequently she chooses her victims carefully so we don’t have to despair over their parting!!

    • Yes, I think that’s why they’re so great as comfort reading – you know you’re never really going to be harrowed too much, but at the same time I very, very rarely work out whodunit… even on a re-read! 😉

    • I read my way through them all, I think, when I was in my late teens/early twenties, and I still love re-reading them. It helps that my memory’s so shocking I can still never remember whodunit… 😉

  7. Love your observations about Christie untangling a complicated knot (we get the word denouement from the French ‘to untangle’). I’m going to use this in my crime workshops. Thanks, FF.

    • Oh, I didn’t know that’s what denouement comes from – interesting! Nobody better than Christie for aspiring crime writers to study, I’d say. Nearly every book is a masterclass in plotting… 😀

  8. I read this one earlier this year and found it immensely satisfying! Nice to know you enjoyed it as much as I did. This makes me want to read another of Christie’s mysteries — formula or not, I just love the way she puts together a plot!!

    • It’s so long since I last read this one I had forgotten how good it is! I love Christie – her plotting just can’t be beaten, and the tone is always perfect, not too light, not too dark. It’s always time for another Christie re-read, I think!

  9. I never thought about doing an audiobook version of Poirot ! What a great idea. And especially great that Hugh Fraser narrates. I just love it when Hastings and Poirot interact (in the books & also on the show). They are so great together! I do love it when Poirot does his “reveal” at the end, glad to hear it happens in this book. Great fun! Can’t wait to get to this one 🙂

    • There are loads of fabulous audio version of the Christie books on Audible. Up to now, David Suchet was my favourite narrator for the Poirot books but I actually preferred Hugh Fraser – this one is pretty much perfect! And I love to listen to Joan Hickson narrating the Miss Marple books. It really makes a re-read extra special to do it as a listen instead… 😀

      • Yeah, I can really see how doing a re-read with an audiobook would be great. I want to try an audiobook this year. Maybe I’ll try out one of these mysteries!

        • Oh, I hope you review it if you do – I’d love to hear how you get on. I find listening to audiobooks is a completely different experience to reading, really…

  10. Well of course this one was fabulous! I have a friend who only listens now. And me? I can only read. And I prefer a physical book of some sort – hardbound or paper.

    • I struggle with audiobooks – short stories are fine, but whole novels ahve to have a great narrator to hold my attention. Fortunately, there have been several great narrators for Agatha Christie’s books – and Hugh Fraser is a brilliant one! 😀

      • It never occurred to me that audio books could be more difficult than text (in any way). I’m dyslexic, so while I LOVE to read, I struggled to learn and it’s not always easy. Reading can take a lot of effort (especially if I’m tired, stressed, etc) but audio books are always do-able for me since they remove the visual de-coding barrier. I guess it just goes to show how different people are. 🙂

        • That’s interesting! I find it’s an entirely different skillset somehow. I used to listen to audiobooks while driving, back when I had a longish commute, and that worked because I couldn’t allow myself to either get distracted or fall asleep. But now that I listen at home, I suddenly find I’m having a conversation with the cats, or I’ve caught sight of a headline on TV, or just drfited off into a daydream, and missed a whole section. I’m really having to retrain my brain to cope with extended listening…

            • It’d be interesting to know if other people with dyslexia manage audiobooks better too – and if that’s something to do with how our brains are wired, or just practice. Maybe whichever one we do most of makes it difficult for our brain to cope with the other…

  11. I can’t remember when I last read any Christie – probably in my teens. And I suspect I may never have read a Poirot – yet I love the tv series. Something to address I think; perhaps with the book rather than the recording. Although being such a fan of the good captain, it’s very tempting to listen to him… I fear I would forget to listen carefully enough though, being happy enough to drift along listening to his voice. I’d have no chance of guessing whodunnit.

    • Total comfort reading for me – can’t go wrong with a Christie! Well, most of them anyway! Yes, I have difficulty concentrating properly on audiobooks too, but that’s why I love listening to re-reads – it doesn’t matter so much then if my attention wanders. But a great narrator can hold my attention most of the time…

    • He’s done loads of them – I went on a mad spree to get as many as I could with some of the credits I’d built up. And I also thoroughly recommend Joan Hickson’s readings of the Miss Marple books… like being read to by your favourite grandmother… 🙂

    • I’d forgotten how good this book is – it’s definitely one of my favourites now. And I do highly recommend Hugh Fraser’s narrations of the Poirot books – I can’t wait to listen to more of them! 😀

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s