The Big Four by Agatha Christie is a Poirot with a spy twist. Poirot finds himself plunged into a world of international intrigue and even encounters the mysterious Countess Vera Rossakoff. A tale of mystery, intrigue, explosions and lost love.
This feels like a love letter to another genre. In the same way that Lathe of Heaven reads as though Ursula le Guin had just gotten back from a heavy weekend with Philip K Dick, this reads like Christie had been drinking martinis with Ian Fleming.
It’s interesting to see action Poirot travel the globe and there are some clever twists. You never know which side will come out on top, and it is delightful to come across Rossakoff again. But overall, it doesn’t really hang together.
Honestly? Even without the racism, it’s not one of her best; Christie herself referred to it as “that rotten book”. TV scriptwriter Mark Gatiss barely based his version on the novel, calling it “an almost unadaptable mess”. The book itself feels like a collection of short stories strung together, which in fact it originally was. It was rumoured that it’s success largely stemmed from happenstance, as it coincided with Christie’s disappearance and reappearance.
Hastings is exceptionally stupid, weak and sexist in this book. He is easily fooled by an attractive redhead and his primary role in the novel is to be captured, tricked and to act as Poirot’s patsy. Additionally, while Poirot is as sharp as ever, I’m always surprised at how arrogant and rude novel Poirot is. My canon Poirot is David Suchet’s ITV version. He infuses the character with a warmth and kindness that Christie’s version sorely lacked.
In the End
I can’t really recommend this. To be fair, i’m not a fan of any of Christie’s spy novels; I found The Incredible Theft rather cringe worthy. It’s a bit too disjointed, and Poirot is too out of character. I’ve seen the novel likened to both fanfiction and parody; neither are off the mark.