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The Terrible Catastrophe is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in issue 1623 of The Sketch on 5 March 1924. It was the tenth of a series of connected stories to be published in the magazine under the series title "The Man who was Number Four: Further Adventures of M. Poirot".

In January 1927, the stories in the series were woven together with minor changes and some additional connecting paragraphs and then published in novel form as The Big Four. For background as to the circumstances of this, see The Big Four. The short story here formed the basis for chapter 15 of The Big Four (also with the title "The Terrible Catastrophe").

Later the same year, in December 1927, the story was published in The Blue Book Magazine. The text in this latter case was the same (with minor abridgements) as in the novelisation and so this can be considered a serialization of the novel rather than a republication of the original short story text as carried in The Sketch.

The original text of the story as found in The Sketch was therefore quite rare until 2016. In that year, HarperCollins published The Big Four (Detective Club Edition), a collection of the "Big Four" short stories as they first appeared in The Sketch.

In the Sketch series, this story is preceded by The Adventure of the Peroxide Blonde and followed by The Dying Chinaman.


Poirot lays out his case against the Big Four to the Home Secretary and the French Prime Minister. The Home Secretary is convinced, but the French premier is sceptical. Because Poirot believes his life is at risk, he gives the Home Secretary the key to a safe deposit box where his notes on the Big Four are held. Returning home, one Nurse Mabel Palmer is waiting for them. She needs Poirot's help urgently because she thinks her patient is being poisoned.

Plot summary[]

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

In the days after the death of Flossie Monro, Poirot arranges a meeting with the British Home Secretary and the French Prime Minister. He lays out his case against the Big Four and all the evidence he has gathered. He gives the Home Secretary a key to a safe deposit box where he has kept his notes on the case. The Home Secretary believes Poirot but the French Prime Minister is more sceptical, particularly as regards the possibility that Madame Olivier, the famous French scientist, could be Number Three. Nonetheless, Poirot is satisfied with the meeting. Since he has unmasked Claud Darrell as Number Four, he believes his life is at risk but at least now what he has uncovered will not die with him.

After the meeting, Ingles announces his intention to go to China while Poirot reveals an odd fact to Hastings: he has a twin brother named Achille. Perhaps, Poirot muses, it is time to ask his brother to help.

Poirot and Hastings arrive home to find a nurse Mabel Palmer waiting for them. She needs their help. Her employer, Mr Templeton, has episodic unexplained gastric attacks after eating. The doctor, Dr Treves, thinks it is normal, but she has seen the doctor with Templeton's young wife. Palmer has saved a sample of soup which Poirot sends for testing and this is found to contain antimony.

Poirot and Hastings visit Templeton at his house in Hertfordshire. Mrs Templeton is indisposed but Dr Treves and Templeton's son host them to dinner. Suddenly, Poirot is taken ill and asks to be taken to a bedroom to rest. Once he is alone with Hastings, he tells him that the son is Number 4. He gave himself away by his unconscious motion of dabbing up bread crumbs with a small piece of bread. Poirot fears they are in a trap. They escape from the house by climbing down the ivy from the bedroom window.

Back in London, Poirot carefully examines his flat for booby traps. Hastings is impatient and wants to light a fire. He notices a matchbox left carelessly around and touches it. There is an explosion. When Hastings comes to, Dr Ridgeway tells him that Poirot has been killed.


Research notes[]

Comparison between the original story and the version in the novel[]

  • The text of the chapter in the novel is the same as that of the original short story.


Film, TV, or theatrical versions[]

Agatha Christie's Poirot[]

Publication history[]

Original short story text[]

As part of novelisation[]

  • 1927: The Big Four, William Collins and Sons (London), 27 January 1927, Hardcover, 282 pp
  • 1927: The Big Four, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1927, Hardcover, 276 pp
  • 1927: The Blue Book Magazine, Vol. 46 No. 2 (Chicago), December 1927 - as "The Enemy Strikes" which incorporates both chapter 15 and chapter 16 of the novel.[2]


  1. See this listing at Galactic Central
  2. Expression error: Unexpected < operator.