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Something quick and easy in the shape of The Big Four by Agatha Christie. Essentially a set of linked short stories set in the late 1920s, the overarching narrative follows Poirot and Hastings as they pit their wits and strength against the titular group of international criminal masterminds. Of the group, the member most often encountered is the fourth; nicknamed the destroyer, he is a ruthless assassin with a chameleon-like ability to take almost any role without risk of detection.

The early stories involve Poirot and Hastings trying to ferret out information about the different members of the group. Although they sometime fall into the traps set for them by the gang, each time Poirot emerges with more information about the people behind the Big Four. Eventually the group start to take more serious measures, culminating in a bombing which appears to leave Poirot dead. (It's not much of a spoiler to say that he isn't dead: after all, Christie carried on publishing books about him well into the 1960s and 70s) Finally, with Hastings help, Poirot — and his brother Achille — start to tighten the noose around the Big Four.

The episodes are more like a spy thriller than a detective story, with Poirot taking an uncharacteristically active role in events. Perhaps this explains why he makes quite so many errors of judgement! Hastings is as dimly charming as ever. When the duo turn up a briefing note the Big Four have prepared about them, Hastings completely fails to see their accuracy: despite having just fallen into a trap baited with a pretty young woman with red hair, he claims to Poirot that there isn't the slightest bit of truth in set of documents which detail precisely this weakness!

Entertaining, if undemanding, stuff...

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sawyl

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