Hastings returns to Britain after a long absence to find Poirot anxious for a new case which will challenge his gray cells. Poirot quickly gets his wish in the form of taunting letters from a serial killer who has dubbed himself ABC and who leaves an ABC railroad schedule at the scene of each crime. The victims as well as the crime scenes appear to be chosen randomly, but maintain an obsessive adherence to alphabetical order. However, Poirot grows to believe that the killer is not the madman the authorities believe, but a methodical murderer with a very tangible motive. Written by
G. Taverney (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The programme features a number of excerpts from a supposedly contemporary "film" from 1936. The effect is strikingly well-done, except at the end of the film we can see the acting and technical credits - in a genuine 1936 film, these credits would have been shown at the beginning. See more »
Train now boarding.
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Did they have serial killers in the 1930s? Of course they existed, Christie even makes reference to Jack the Ripper here, but I don't know if the modern concept of the serial killer, the killer who kills multiple people that he's never met before, for reasons that only make sense in his deranged brain, I don't know how popular that was in Christie's time. In the novel, she spends quite a lot of time talking about the psychology of such a person, mostly with the idea of hopefully being able to predict and warn the next victim. Poirot has multiple conferences with the police and an "alienist"; Poirot himself has always supported the idea of understanding the psychology of a criminal, but there are a few characters in this story who pooh-pooh that notion, who come from the "right is right and wrong is wrong" school of thought. These days, whenever I read a Poirot novel, I can't help but compare it to how such a crime would be treated on Law and Order, or, in this case, Criminal Minds.
The concept is an unusual one, even for Christie. Poirot is receiving taunting letters from a killer. In each case the killer gives Poirot the date and place of the murder in advance. The first murder is of Alice Ascher, an elderly lady who keeps a small shop, not a very prominent crime. But shortly afterwards, the killer attacks a pretty young girl, Betty Barnard, and then a rich art collector, Sir Carmichael Clarke, and in each case he leaves at the scene of the crime an alphabetical railway guide known as an ABC, the same initials as those of the anonymous letter writer. Hence the various discussions about the mind of a "homicidal lunatic" and how to warn any potential future victims, and to catch the killer before he strikes again.
I liked that this episode is faithful to the novel is almost every aspect. Due to the nature of the crimes, this is not one of the more light hearted episodes, which is a bit of a shame; these longer episodes need a little levity to relieve the grim tension involved. There is an amusing running joke about a stuffed alligator that Hastings has brought back from South America, and Suchet has some of his best moments when Hastings presents it to him as a gift. For me this episode was good for the same reasons that the book itself is good, but could have been better if they had found a few more ways to make it interesting.
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