12 April 2021

Review: THE BIG FOUR, Agatha Christie

  • this edition published on Kindle
  • ASIN : B0046H95TA
  • Publisher : HarperCollins (October 14, 2010)
  • Publication date : October 14, 2010
  • Originally published 1927
  • Language : English
  • File size : 633 KB
  • Print length : 242 pages

Synopsis (Amazon)

A ruthless international cartel seeks world domination…

Framed in the doorway of Poirot’s bedroom stood an uninvited guest, coated from head to foot in dust. The man’s gaunt face stared for a moment, then he swayed and fell.

Who was he? Was he suffering from shock or just exhaustion? Above all, what was the significance of the figure 4, scribbled over and over again on a sheet of paper? Poirot finds himself plunged into a world of international intrigue, risking his life to uncover the truth about ‘Number Four’.

My take

I had forgotten the unusual structure of this novel. 

Hastings returns from Argentina without warning Poirot that he is coming. He arrives to find Poirot about to leave to sail to South America. He had decided to surprise Hastings with his arrival.

Plans are thrown into disarray by the uninvited guest who comes into Poirot's bedroom, collapses, and then dies. Poirot realises that he is being warned not to embark for South America.

This 18 chapter novel focusses on 4 people who threaten world security with catastrophe and destruction. At first the identity of just two people are known, then the third is revealed, but Number 4 is like a chameleon, able to take on many disguises and then leave no lasting impression of his face. All 4 are self-centred, and have world domination as their individual goal.

The novel was written originally as 11 or 12  short stories with the central theme of Poirot's search for these arch villains. The stories are presented sequentially and take place over a period of 10 or so months. The stories were published separately in Sketch magazine from 1924 under the sub-heading of The Man who was No. 4, then amalgamated into one narrative. The stories test Hercule Poirot's abilities as a detective. In fact he wishes to establish himself as the pre-eminent brain in the world.

The idea of evil powers trying to control world politics and economies is not confined to Agatha Christie, nor to this one "novel". We see it for example in the James Bond stories, in Christie's Tommy and Tuppence stories, in Superman, Batman and so on. It seems particularly to crop up in the 1920s and 1930s when the Western Powers felt threatened by the rise of China, of Russia, and when the old order had been brought down during World War One.

Once you realise the structure of the novel you begin to see other things. Some of the stories in  THE BIG FOUR appear at first to have nothing to do with the central theme, but Poirot plucks 4s out of nothing.

My rating: 4.2

See Agatha Christie books I have read as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

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