A Russian grand master dies mysteriously during an international chess match. The case is related to a political intrigue involving the so-called Peace Party and its leaders Madame Olivier and Abe Ryland. Poirot investigates with his old friends Hastings, Japp and Lemon, helped by a reporter and a minor actress, but the quartet must soon fight a dangerous battle with the Big Four, a secret society manipulating for their own personal chess game a great number of international celebrities.Written by
At the 00:01:17 mark in the opening - as Japp is writing his "In Memoriam" letters - the top one is addressed to Miss Bulstrode, the headmistress of Meadowbank, seen in #11:2:Poirot: Cat Among the Pigeons (2008). See more »
Events take place in 1939, on the eve of WWII. However, a newspaper article with an obituary says "First World War", the term that started to be used after WWII. See more »
Interesting, with a very left-field plot, ultimately
It is the late-1930s and the world seems headed for war. Hercule Poirot and his old friend Japp, now Assistant Commissioner, are reunited at a special function - the Peace Party, lead by millionaire businessman Abe Ryland, are holding a chess match between a Russian grandmaster and Mr Ryland. However, the Russian grandmaster is murdered during the match. Suspicion falls on a shadowy, subversive organisation known as The Big 4. It seems determined to undermine the fragile peace and lead the world into war. Poirot and Japp investigate, but, as we see from the opening scenes, this has fatal consequences for Poirot.
Intriguing, and quite different to your average Poirot mystery. The suspects aren't all neatly lined up for Poirot to interrogate and mull over. No, there are no suspects, well, none that you can see, due to The Big 4 being such a secretive organisation.
The whole thing feels more like a spy novel than a murder mystery, sort of Robert Ludlum-like but set in the 1930s.
In addition to the originality, one of the upsides to this episode is the fact that we have Poirot, Japp, Hastings and Miss Lemon back together again, for the first time in a long while (the series' own Big 4!). Hastings and Lemon don't have much screen time but the Poirot- Japp partnership here is very Season 6/7-like, which is good, and quite nostalgic.
This does bring me to the one problem with this episode - the timeline. Being set in 1939 or so, this is only 3-4 years since the Poirot-Japp-Hastings heyday, in terms of the chronology of the stories. Yet, due to long gaps between seasons and episodes, it is at least 10 years since the last time Poirot and Japp worked together, and the aging of the actors is obvious. Initially I thought this was set in the late-1940s/early-50s, due to the age of the actors and characters, and the war clouds were really a reference to the Cold War. This belief was strengthened by Japp now being an Assistant Commissioner, a massive leap in rank from when we saw him last (as a Chief Inspector). He couldn't possibly have been promoted from Chief Inspector to Assistant Commissioner in only three or so years.
Basically, you need to suspend your disbelief regarding the timeline between this and other Poirot episodes.
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