05 May 2011

The Big Four

The Big Four
Summary: Hercule Poirot has had his share of intruders - yet none more peculiar than the emaciated stranger covered in mud who stumbles into the detective's apartment, shouts half-crazed warnings about "the Big Four," and dies. But not before plunging Poirot into a crazy netherworld of international intrigue, secret weapons, kidnapped physicists, underground laboratories, hairbreadth escapes, and an employee from a local insane asylum who's all too eager to let the baffled Belgian in on the sinister secret of "the Big Four." (source: book cover)

Comments: You know, one of the things that I'm finding as I read Ms. Christie's mysteries, besides the excellent writing and very interesting stories, is how very funny she is. Not in a laugh out loud way, but in a subtle, Austen-like way - a barb here and there, some turn of phrase that makes fun of something - often of fiction and mysteries themselves. Rather a charming characteristic, I find. 
Hastings has returned from Argentina to surprise Poirot in England and the two get mixed up in some very serious business that reminds me of The Secret Adversary, the second book by Ms. Christie. That the poor gentleman, Mayerling, that stumbled into Poirot's room was a victim of "persecution mania" reminded me of how much terms change over time, just like the use of "brain fever" something no one would write about now. 
Poirot, of course, never changes. He's the same egotistical little man that he ever was. As an example, early on the discovery of the existence of the Big Four ...
"No Hastings, Number Four has left no trace, and he knows it. His visit we may call a reconnaisance. Perhaps he wanted to make quite sure that Mayerling was dead, but more likely, I think, he came to see Hercule Poirot, and to have speech with the adversary whom alone he must fear.
Poirot's reasoning appeared to me typically egotistical, but I forbore to argue."
Just as words have changed over time, so have considerations of gender. When Hastings thinks of Madame Oliver, the great physicist, "It has always seemed to me extraordinary that a woman should go so far in the scientific world. I should have thought a purely masculine brain was needed for such work." We see the time period very clearly and thankfully, it is a different world we live in now. 
I am glad Ms. Christie leaves the French text in (just as it is in Jane Eyre as well). It helps me get my little grey cells going on remembering or sorting out the particulars of the language. It seems likely that Poirot comes from the southern part of Belgium given that he speaks French and refers in the book to the town of Spa which, indeed, exists and is also in the French speaking part of the country. 
I enjoyed this book very much. The sharp, quickly-moving chapters were succinctly written and moved the story at a very fast pace, but also developed the characters as well. There are times that I have to look up words, such as, dyspepsia - chronic pain in the upper abdomen. And other terms that I'm not up on such as the Ruy Lopez opening in chess - it's also called the Spanish opening or Spanish game, named for the 16th century Spanish bishop and chess player, Ruy Lopez de Segura. 
Poirot can be a real sentimental, especially when Hastings risks his life (and others) to save Poirot from making a enormous mistake ... "You like not that I should embrace you or display the emotion, I know well. I will be very British. I will say nothing - but nothing at all. Only this - that in this last adventure of ours, the honours are all with you, and happy is the man who has such a friend as I have!"
But he's also a little on the practical side as well ... "That is possibly true enough," admitted Poirot. "I hope that they will not succeed in massacring Hastings also, that is all. That would annoy me greatly."

That's Poirot for you. Just love him, and Hastings too. Up next, The Blue Train.

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