Literary Brilliance of ABC Murders
Agatha Christie remains one of the most influential and famous mystery writers of all time, however, some may wonder what makes her work so important to horror novels and writers today. While it has been almost a hundred years since The ABC Murders (1936) was originally published, the themes, symbols, and tropes presented throughout the novel continue to be seen in modern mystery and horror novels and films. While many of Agatha Christie’s novels are not necessarily horror, The ABC Murders definitely falls under the horror category, with the uneasiness, suspense, and violence portrayed throughout the story. This article will analyze significant themes, tropes, and symbols presented by Christie that made this novel one of the most influential horror stories of all time.
The ABC Murders, originally published in 1936, follows the recurring detective, Hercule Poirot. Throughout the story, he must discover and hunt down a serial killer murdering victims following the order of the alphabet. Poirot, an important character throughout Christie’s novels and stories, soon discovers that these murders are not just a coincidence but, in fact, they line up with places he went to on his first encounter in the United States after immigrating from Belgium. Scarily, Poirot also discovers that the murderer has intimate and personal knowledge of where he went, who he talked to, and events that happened throughout his first years in the United States. Even more unnerving is that the killer is directly writing to Poirot about the killings and the police in the beginning just brush these letters off as a crazy Poirot fanatic. However, the letters soon come to life by slowly murdering people one by one, just as the killer stated. Similar to other Christie novels, it takes the reader until the end of the story to discover just who the murderer is, leaving the reader with a worrisome feeling throughout the entire story.
One of the main themes presented almost immediately to the reader in the story is the importance of linguistics. While this theme doesn’t seem as important as some of the other ideas, tropes, and symbols presented by Christie, it is arguably the main theme that drives the story and the horror within it. The use of the alphabetic sequence by the killer throughout the story adds a layer of fear and suspense rarely seen in horror novels and completely new at the time of its publication. Christie utilizes this sequence to build suspense and allow readers to revel in this feeling along with detective Poirot. Not only do the killings follow this sequence perfectly, with one exception, but the letters sent to Poirot are also signed “A.B.C.” which adds a whole other aspect of horror; that of the unknown. The ‘calling card’ of the killer, or their pen name, while unique at the time of publication can be seen in a number of horror stories and films and is one of the most important character traits of several killers. The victims’ names and locations of where they are murdered follow this alphabetic sequence in conjunction with the locations of Poirot’s first years in the United States. While the importance of linguistics is a common theme in modern horror novels which can be seen in various stories written by Stephen King, Christie was the first to present this idea to the readers, making it all that more intense.
Another aspect of this novel that is unique to Christie’s writing is that of the disruptive narrative experience upon the reader. Most stories follow either first person, second, or third person throughout the entirety of the story, however, in “The ABC Murders,” Christie presents a discontinued narrative perspective which highlights the mood of the characters throughout the story. This narrative perspective leaves the reader with an unreliable source of information that adds to depth of the horror throughout the story, as well as the feeling of helplessness and utter confusion. This is common in many of Christie’s novels and stories. However, paired with the linguistic sequence provided, it creates an atmosphere of intense worry and fear, highlighted by Poirot’s reactions.
Interestingly, only one of the characters throughout the story actually evolves while the rest, including Poirot, remain rather stagnant. Though this might not be immediately noticed by the readers, once the end of the story is near, it allows the reader to piece together just who the killer could be. This is unique in almost every way as most novelists want their characters to evolve and grow with the story. However, Christie highlights the stagnation of all the other characters throughout the story with the killer’s growth. Towards the end of the novel, the killer makes a regrettable mistake in one of the killings, ultimately causing their demise and capture by Poirot. This idea of character stagnation has been replicated by other horror novelists and is not unique to Christie, she was one of the first authors who developed character growth for only the killer. This also highlights the horror in the story as it forces the reader to humanely connect with only the killer due to their character growth.
These literary devices combined create a unique and unforgettable, horrifying experience within the readers, so much that it has been recreated time and time again in several horror stories, films, and is extremely popular in detective novels. Not only does Christie give no relief until the end, she forces the reader to be a part of the fear and uneasiness through these devices, so successfully that it has been adapted in shows and films several times since its original publication. Even almost a hundred years later, the story is so unique that it provides a new horrifying experience to anyone who hasn’t read or seen the adaptations of the story and while various authors and filmmakers have tried to recreate this emotional response from the audience, Christie remains the queen of mystery because of these literary devices.
The ABC Murders (2019) Official Prime Video Trailer