The Big Four by Agatha Christie

The Big Four Agatha ChristieThe Big Four: “I have met people who enjoy a channel crossing; men who can sit calmly in their deck chairs and, on arrival, wait until the boat is moored, then gather their belongings together without fuss and disembark.”

Detective: Hercule Poirot

Published: January 1927

Length: 282 pages

Setting: London, Southampton, Devon, Surrey, Paris, Hatton Chase (fictional), Worcestershire, Belgium, South Tyrol (Italy)

Returning from Argentina after an 18-month absence, Hasting finds his old friend, Detective Hercule Poirot ready to depart for South American himself. He has been summoned by a client, Abe Ryland, who is a powerful man and in urgent need of his services.  But when Poirot finds a dishevelled, emaciated man in his bedroom with no clue as to how he got there, his departure is delayed.  As the man mutters Poirot’s name, while writing the number 4, Hastings speculates on a crime syndicate named The Big Four, whereupon the man reveals the possible players:

  • Li Chang Yen, a political mastermind
  • A man who is known as “$” who is often represented with a star and two stripes, therefore he is a suspected wealthy American
  • A French woman
  • A person with the appellation of “The Destroyer.”
Southampton Terminal

Southampton Terminal
~ source Wikipedia

On his way to the ship, Poirot suspects a ruse to remove him from London and returns to his flat where they find that the man has been murdered.

So begins the mystery, as Hastings and Poirot race against time to explain mysterious deaths and discover the main players before they can take over the world.

Cliffs in Devon

Cliffs in Devon
~ source Wikipedia

Christie relies too much on flash and dash and colossal espionage and political intrigue to capture the reader’s interest at the expense of the finer points of a mystery novel such as craft and detail and finesse.  While mysteries can require some suspension of disbelief, this one overdoes it in both form and in content.

I read this book 6 months ago and apologize for the thin review, but I didn’t really care for it at all, making it my least favourite Christie so far.  It’s certainly a disappointment after her stellar creation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. After reading some background material, I discovered that the novel was a compilation of separate stories and it shows in its unevenness.  The Scotsman in its review of 1927 said: “The activities of Poirot himself cannot be taken seriously, as one takes, for example, Sherlock Holmes. The book, indeed, reads more like an exaggerated parody of popular detective fiction than a serious essay in the type. But it certainly provides plenty of fun for the reader who is prepared to be amused. If that was the intention of the authoress, she has succeeded to perfection,” and Robert Barnard, a well-known English mystery writer stated: “This thriller was cobbled together at the lowest point in Christie’s life, with the help of her brother-in-law. Charity is therefore the order of the day, and is needed, for this is pretty dreadful, and (whatever one may think of him as a creation) demeaning to Poirot.”  If Christie attempted any more espionage novels, one can only hope for improvement.

The Big Four


⇐  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd                              The Mystery of the Blue Train ⇒

24 thoughts on “The Big Four by Agatha Christie

  1. I’ve never read this one, but it sounds like I haven’t missed much! I like Christie, but have never felt the need to be completist about her. (There are definitely some second-rate Ellery Queens I read to be complete.)

    • After such a good start, I was so disappointed with this one. It’s kept me from continuing, I think … it made me lose my motivation. I would like to be a completist, but if I’m not, that’s fine too. Is Ellery Queen better than Christie’s mysteries?

      • I like Ellery Queen as a character better than Poirot as a character, which is what got me to be completist about EQ. I think I’ve probably read all the Miss Marples.

        As for pure plot ingeniousness, EQ can be pretty good (Greek Coffin Mystery, e.g.) but he’s not in Christie’s league.

  2. Out of 66 full length novels, this one easily falls in my bottom 5, possibly even my bottom 3. The only redeeming value of the book, in my opinion, is the relationship between M. Poirot and his cher ami Hastings. The plot itself is wholly unsuccessful.

    Your next Christie should be The Mystery of the Blue Train, which still isn’t one of her best books, but is yards better than this one. You’re coming into one of her strongest writing periods, though, with Peril and End House on the horizon, which is a personal favorite of mine.

    • Thanks so much for the encouragement. And it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who didn’t like this one. It was as if there was no plan and just lots of exaggerated espionage nonsense.

      I have The Mystery of the Blue Train ready to go. I just have to pick it up and break the stall I’m in with this Christie challenge.

  3. Just the description of the plot you provide had me thinking it sounded more like a thriller than a proper detective mystery. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good thrilled, but if Hercule Poirot is on stage, I’m expecting a proper detective story! So…not perhaps looking forward to this one as much as I would otherwise, but my determination to be completist on Christie will see me through! 🙂

    • The positive thing is that it’s quite a quick read so it’s not completely torturous. Are you enjoying your chronological reading of her works? I just have to get going again and I’m sure I’ll get into a groove. Soon …. really …..!

      • Yes, I AM enjoying the chronological reading. Perhaps more so since I know the best are yet to come, but as you say, at least they’re quick reads. Now, I just need to start actually posting about the books instead of leaving the drafts sit around in their folder…

        • I have 66 drafts. Have I beaten you? Some I’ll end up deleting but I’d say I want to complete at least half of them. Yikes! I hope I’ve made you feel better!

          • 66?! Wow…yes, you’ve beaten me! Good luck with all those posts–I think I’d feel completely overwhelmed…

    • I remember that Poirot is not your favourite detective but I can’t remember if the same applies to Miss Marple??? Which detective do you like?

      • I enjoyed Miss Marple, when she was actually part of the story. I was turned off by the fact that books were included in the Miss Marple series where she was tacked on and really didn’t have anything to do with the central plot.

        It’s been a while, but I liked Holmes&Watson, Brother Cadfael, etc. I do think I prefer standalone mysteries where the “mystery” is the central figure, not a main character.

        • That’s actually a great point that I never thought of before. With many of these series, the mystery does revolve around the character instead of the character being subservient to the mystery. Have you ever read any of Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries? I wonder if she was able to step out of that “trap”?

          • I have not tried any Sayers. I’ll have to look into her bibliography, as I would like to keep my reading genres varied…
            Thanks! 🙂

  4. i love hastings and poirot and liked this one a lot for that reason.. of course i’m known in certain circles (mrs. m) for my low taste… i’ve even been caught reading Mike hammer (blush)…

    • Yes, Poirot and Hastings’ relationship is always interesting but I couldn’t get over the plot drivel in this one. Better luck to me with the next one. I have not read Mike Hammer so I will not comment. It was made into a T.V. series though, so it couldn’t be THAT bad!

    • Silvia! So thrilled to see you, my friend! You’ve been very quiet. I hope everything is okay with you! Hugs from across the continent!

  5. I think this title is pretty much disliked even by Christie fans. I don’t really like her spy stuff (stand alones like They Came to Baghdad or any of the Tommy and Tuppence books) at all, but I think she enjoyed writing it.

    But I agree with Christine above: if you are reading the titles in order, you have some really good ones to look forward to coming up. 😀 Some of my favorites, apart from the super famous titles are Peril at End House, Death in the Clouds and The ABC Murders. Read one of them and you’ll get your mojo back I reckon!

    • I’ve liked her spy stuff before this book. Mind you, it’s patently ridiculous but taken in fun, it’s a good lark. This time, it was almost like she was trying to be serious with the ridiculous and it didn’t come off well at all!

      Oooo, I can’t wait! I’m almost finished The Mystery of the Blue Train! Thanks for the encouragement! Here I go!

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