Book #4 for 2016
PopSugar Challenge Categories:
– A book set in Europe
– A book from the library
Personal Challenge Category:
– A book borrowed from the library
I am working my way through the Agatha Christie Perpetual Challenge to read all of her mystery fiction (and some of her other works) in publication order, so this book presented me with a bit of a dilemma. It wasn’t published in its novel format until 1927, but the individual stories of which it is composed were originally published several years before that. However, only one of those stories (“The Chess Problem”) was ever reprinted on its own later, and even it would be a bit of a task to track down in its short-story format. At this time, it just made more sense for me to read the stories in their ultimate novel format but in their original publication order.
Dame Agatha herself was not pleased with The Big Four, but I am inclined to cut the woman some slack. Her mother had just died and her husband was being a total asshat, and she had to produce something for publication. These stories were handy for smushing, so she smushed them. And it shows. But they were still a fun departure for M. Poirot and his faithful Captain Hastings, and I am not going to begrudge her (or them) that. Are they far-fetched and over-the-top? You betcha. But I’m okay with that. I had more of a problem with the villains being cardboard stereotypes. But even then, that’s part of the old spy-thriller formula. Christie was just doing her job.
I also wonder where she was in her developing contempt for her little Belgian when she wrote these stories. I know at some point she desperately wanted to kill him off and focus on other characters, but as Doyle discovered with Sherlock Holmes, that is not such an easy thing to accomplish. There are clear, self-aware parallels in these stories between The Big Four villains and Moriarty; the final showdowns on the Continent; Countess Vera Rossakoff and Irene Adler; and Achille and Mycroft. I know she was tired of Poirot by the time she introduced Ariadne Oliver, but I suspect she was already headed that direction when she wrote these stories. (view spoiler)
I had a good time reading this book again, and I would recommend it to any Christie fan who can keep it in its proper perspective. It is not a book I would recommend to anybody trying Christie for the first time, as it really is not typical of her larger body of work.