The Big Four (Hercule Poirot #5), by Agatha Christie

Seven stars

Back for another instalment of the Agatha Christie collection, I looked to the fifth book in the Hercule Poirot collection. Christie moves away from the whodunit and into the world of a thriller for this piece, which offers some vastly different things for those who have come to enjoy her sly writing style. Captain Arthur Hastings is back from some time away, only to find his old flat mate, Hercule Poirot in the thick of things. It would seem that he is alerted to the presence of The Big Four, a group of international criminals that many do not believe exist. When members of the group appear in England, Poirot works to identify them and shine a light on their existence, all while Hastings finds himself caught in the web of the Four and must act withou the Belgian’s assistance, at least for a time. A fast-paced story that leaves the reader panting to catch up. A different side to Agatha Christie to be sure.

Colonel Arthur Hastings is back in England after some time away. His first stop is to see Hercule Poirot, his former flatmate, the retired Belgian detective. While Hastings is eager to catch up, Poirot is preparing to depart for the other side of the world on a mystery. However, all that is stopped when mention of The Big Four enters the discussion. Poirot explains that this is an international cabal prepared to do their dirty work whenever time permits. While many governments and police authorities believe they are a myth, Poirot is sure they are real and committing crimes all over them lace, leaving calling cards in their wake.

After an apparent poisoning, Poirot is sure it is the work of the Big Four, noticing a note that has been left behind. Hastings concurs, but cannot simply accept things without more proof. Poirot does his best to provide it, while remaining one step ahead of the killers in hopes of catching them in the act. Hastings is along for the ride, worried about what might happen if the littler Belgian is left to his own devices.

With more bodies piling up, Poirot is sure that he is hot on the trail, only to have something monumental occur. When Hastings is alone, he receives a note stating that someone has his wife and that she will come to great harm if he does not follow immediately, Bringing Poirot could endanger everyone, something that Hastings does not want. It will take some sly work to ensure the Big Four are caught and that Poirot is alerted to the danger, but Hastings cannot be sloppy about it, forcing him to use all the wits he has about him to make the correct move in a timely manner. Christie does well yet again, though purists will surely bemoan the move away from the traditional work she has made popular with this series to date.

Agatha Christie has rightfully earned her title as the Dame of Mystery, though this novel shows how she steps outside the cookie-cutter nature of her writing to test out some new approaches. Some like them, while others prefer the traditional whodunit recipe for Poirot to use to his advantage. Still, it proves to be an entertaining piece that is full of adventure and intrigue. Strong plot ideas develop throughout the story, allowing the reader to enjoy some banter between Poirot and Hastings, who returns after some time away.

Hercule Poirot takes centre stage again in this piece, offering up more of his Belgian eccentricities. Christie has yet to offer a great deal about his past, though there is something offered up here with regards to his family. The reader can see how the suave detective moves throughout this piece, picking up some of the small clues in order to make a name for himself. His ego and pompous nature are, once again, on offer, and the reader must watch how Hastings seeks to wrest control of the situation at various points. I am eager to learn more about Poirot and hope the series offers new ways in which that can be accomplished.

Agatha Christie remains one of the best-known mystery writers of all times, using Poirot to help her keep this title all these years later. Christie uses strong narrative development to propel the story along, capturing the reader’s attention throughout. The characters are clearly defined, even more sinister than usual, and plots gain momentum in a straightforward fashion, yet still requires that the reader to pay close attention. Use of a second-person narrative in the form of Arthur Hastings offered a unique approach and leaves me wanting to learn more as the series propels itself forward at breakneck speed.

Kudos, Dame Christie, for a wonderful piece that kept me intrigued.