The Big Four by Agatha Christie

Poirot novel may prove a test for even his most dedicated fans

The Big Four was the seventh Poirot novel
The Big Four was the
seventh Poirot novel
Rereading all Agatha Christie’s detective novels in chronological order is enabling me to enjoy her best work once again and to discover novels that I have somehow managed to overlook over the years.

I was intrigued by her seventh novel,The Big Four, which was published in 1927, because, although it features Poirot and Hastings, it is a far cry from the mystery with a country house setting that readers have come to know and love.

Poirot enters the world of international espionage in this story and races from country to country, trying to track down four master criminals who are working together to achieve world domination.

The first is Abe Ryland, an American businessman, the second is Madame Olivier, a French scientist, and the third is a sinister Chinaman called Li Chang Yen.

The fourth, who Poirot does not unmask until close to the end of the book, is able to evade him because he turns out to be a master of disguise.

The Big Four was not my favourite Poirot novel, as it was more of an espionage thriller, with Poirot chosen to be the unlikely hero whose mission is to save the world.

Delving into the background of the book, I found that it originated from 12 separate short stories that had already been published. Apparently, Agatha, who was at a low point in her life, needed to come up with a new book for her publisher. With the help of her brother-in-law, she gathered up some of her old stories, reworked them, and submitted them as a new novel to her publisher. 

But she was never satisfied with The Big Four and used to refer to it herself as ‘that rotten book.’ It came after her sixth novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which had been a spectacular success and was a tough act to follow.

The Big Four was adapted for television in 2013 starring David Suchet as Poirot. It is worth persevering with, if only to be able to say in the future that you have read every one of Agatha Christie’s 66 detective novels.

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