Read Recently — October 2005

The Big Four: a Hercule Poirot Novel by Agatha Christie

This is the 3rd of the Hastings tales (I couldn’t find the 2nd). In it, Hastings has gotten married and been living in South America, ranching in Argentina. Now, business has called him back to Europe, so he intends to drop in on his old friend Hercule Poirot, intending to surprise him.

Poirot is surprised all right; he’s due to leave about an hour after Hastings arrives, to take on a job in . . . South America, where he intends to surprise his old friend Hastings . . . but then someone breaks into the apartment, babbles about “the Big Four”, and falls unconsious. Poirot and Hastings leave the man to recover, and run to make the train, but it suddenly occurs to Poirot that he he is being gotten out of the way–they rush back to the rooms, and find the man dead. And from there our heroes are off, into what struck me as one of Poirot’s least satisfying adventures.

It seems that the Big 4 are The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu Li Chang Yen, a brilliant puppetmaster who may be behind everything bad that has ever happened in Europe, or I may be exaggerating a bit, Number two is a wealthy American, identity unknown, Number 3 is a French woman, and number 4 is The Destroyer. No, not Remo Williams. This one is a master of disguise and assassination . . . all right, maybe it is Remo.

I found this story ultimately unsatisfactory mostly because I think Poirot is best suited to mysteries rather than international intrigue. And while the individual substories that were Poirot’s clashes with the Big Four are all small mysteries, they aren’t the locked-room, gather-the-suspects-in-the-drawing-room sort of thing that make Poirot’s ouevre both atmospheric and interesting.

Hastings makes a poor Watson; he talks about liking and respecting Poirot and then spends half his time thinking he could do things better, while Poirot mocks Hastings’ lack of imagination and ability to think things through. This often leaves me wondering why these guys think they’re friends; a problem I never had with Holmes and Watson, if you see what I mean. On the other hand, Poirot does look out for Hastings.

Poirot’s plan for his final face-off with the Big Four is genuinely brilliant, though.

Overall, not recommended.

A Wizard Abroad by Diane Duane

I didn’t know there was a fourth book in this series. Actually, originally I didn’t know there was a third book in this series. In fact, if you want to be totally honest, originally I didn’t know there was a first book in this series . . .

Lemme ‘splain. A long time ago, when I was young and dirt was new, I read a book I liked very much. It had underwater magic, and sharks, and such, and I could never remember what it was called or who it was by (I had the same problem with Andre Norton’s Fur Magic, until it was released in a single volume with two others in the Magic Books back in the 80s). It took a trip to the Kids’ section of one of the major chain bookstores with a friend who was looking for a gift for someone’s kid for me to find out that, in fact, it was Deep Wizardry, by Duane. It wasn’t long before I had the whole trilogy. And then, for some reason, I stopped visiting the kids’ section of the bookstore (possibly something to do with the looks the staff give me?) and it wasn’t until quite recently that I picked up A Wizard Abroad.

It’s fun. Nita is a wizard, living in modern-day Long Island, NY, and is partnered with her close friend Kit. Both are adolescent, and their parents worry about them. Nita’s parents are so worried that they decide to send her off to Ireland, where her aunt lives, so that she and Kit will be apart for a while. Also so that Nita will spend a little time away from Wizardry.

Neither idea works. Kit and Nita can teleport around the universe; a few thousand miles aren’t going to keep them from working together if they want to. And a Wizard who goes somewhere is on duty if she is needed. And it seems that Nita is needed, as the Fomori are coming back and Ireland is in grave danger of being destroyed . . . Nita winds up teaming up with the Wizards of Ireland (and there are a lot of ’em), as well as Kit and her younger, more powerful sister, Dairine, to battle Balor of the One Eye.

Oh, and Nita meets a cute guy, too. Irish, he is.

This was a nice break from the rest of the series so far. Good as it has been, it gets a little tiresome to have every adventure involve battling “The Lone Power”, and defeating/redeeming him/it. I mean, they’ve been good, but how many times can It be redeemed before you start to wonder what you’re doing it for? While, of course, Balor is the Lone Power, he just has to be beaten, not saved this time, and thankfully most of the book focusses on a different aspect of the problem: how will they do it? They know how it’s usually done, but there are problems this time . . .

Anyway, recommended.


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