Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Big Four by Agatha Christie

24. The Big Four - an Hercule Poirot mystery
by Agatha Christie
mystery, 1927
Kindle book - 12
finished, 3/22/11

The Big Four is an unusual Hercule Poirot mystery. It has elements of international intrigue. The lives of Hastings and Poirot are in danger. There are four people who intend to take over the world. They are from China, the United States, France, and England. They each have their particular strengths, and in combination they are slowly working on achieving world domination. It is up to Hercule Poirot and his 'little grey cells' to save civilization. The book is comprised of various cases which on the surface seem like regular criminal investigations but which in reality are related to these four people. This is the first book I am aware of in which Poirot has operatives - people who do various jobs for him, including his brother (!!) Achille.

I found the book rather disjointed. There would be a chapter with a case, and then the next one was several months later. They all had the 'big four' connection, but for me they didn't hold together that well as a book. The book had an odd feeling about it. Poirot didn't seem like himself. It was worth reading, but it definitely didn't shine.

After I finished, I read in my Agatha Christie - A Reader's Companion by Wagstaff and Poole that:
The book was written at a difficult time for Christie. The year had begun with the death of her mother and was followed by the collapse of her marriage, which led her to the verge of a nervous breakdown. An indication of the degree of the trauma is contained in a letter to her publishers in which she proposed a change of name. But they insisted that her public had become used to her as Agatha Christie and she accepted this with considerable reluctance. Written when she was desperate for money, the novel is a rewriting of twelve Poirot short stories first published in The Sketch.
Well, that explains it. Poor Agatha. I really must read more about her life.

Here is the first US dustjacket. I do love reading the titles by 'popular authors.' It is so interesting to see how her work has survived and thrived heartily while so many of her contemporaries have, as they say, drifted into obscurity.


  1. Where are you finding the best, and cheapest resource of the Agatha Christie novels and the other older books you're reading on your Kindle. How much do you typically pay for them?

  2. Though this isn't one of her greatest books, it's still worth re-reading now and then. I always remember it as four books in one or four short stories in one. Is this the one that briefly introduces Achille Poirot? (LOVE that name!) Can't remember. A fun read though written by Christie at a dark time in her life.

  3. I've never even heard of this Agatha Christie book. I think I will skip it, there are just too many great books in the world to read. Thanks for your review!

  4. I have been reading my way through the Poirot mysteries, too. I read "The Big Four" late last year. Definitely not one of my favorites, but I get such a kick out of that arrogant little Belgian with his "little gray cells," I'm willing to follow him on all of his adventures, even when they involve rather silly crime rings.

    The copy I read is an old paperback (cover price 45 cents!) that's falling apart, but it has that great old book smell, perfect for an old-fashioned mystery.

  5. I am making time this summer to read AG for sure!

  6. As you say, many of her contemporaries have "drifted into obscurity." I was lucky to find an author who my grandmother loved -- Temple Bailey. Her books were mostly written in the 1920s and 1930s. I love them. The characters are well drawn and they bring back an era when we actually had ideals in this country without being preachy.

    Another author who hasn't stood the test of time so well, but whose books, I believe, are still in print, is Emilie Loring. Does anybody read Emilie Loring any more? I devoured these books as a teenager, and have all of them, but sadly, they are not as good to me as they used to be. I've been rereading some of them and they just don't keep my attention. I guess I've grown up too much.

    I LOVE vintage fiction!

  7. Karla, they aren't cheap! I pay $6.99 per title for the Kindle. I am building a little Agatha library there.

    Yvette, that's the way I feel. A not-so-good AC is still a good book to me!

    Sherri, there are a lot better choices by Agatha.

    Karen, just how I view it too!

    Staci, I so enjoy her work.

    Jill, I'm not familiar with either of those writers, but will look them up now. Thanks.

  8. I agree with your take on The Big Four. The book definitely reflected her distraction in her mind and personal life at the time. I don't think her heart was in this book. But still - it's an Agatha.

    By the way, the commenter before me (Jill) mentioned Emily Loring. She was a favorite of my mother's and I found three of them about two or three years ago as my mom was just being troubled by dementia. She remembered the books and, in fact, could tell me the entire plot of each one. I'll hook up with Jill.

  9. My favorite Christies are the standalones: They Came to Baghdad, Seven Dials, The Man in the Brown Suit. But I agree that even an indifferent Christie is fun. Have you read Patricia Wentworth and Ngaio Marsh?

    My library owned every Emilie Loring written, perhaps because she was from Boston, but she was a huge bestseller in her day. Her books are much more dated that Christie especially one of my favorites, Swift Water, about a woman who is contemptuous of the local minister until she falls in love with him. Most modern readers would not have the patience to read her books, but the heroines are loyal, determined, upright and always have a great sense of humor when confronted with challenges.


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