The Big Four
Dodd, Mead and Co., 1927
My Rating: B
Hercule Poirot is the star of this novel with his friend Captain Hastings as the narrator. The whole story starts with a strange man tumbling into Poirot’s rooms. He is barely able to communicate “The Big Four” before he dies mysteriously. Of course, our master sleuth has heard talk of the big four. They are the four people who are “behind everything . . . the world-wide unreast, the labour troubles . . . and the revolutions . . .” Poirot sets out to find out more and to stop this menace. Here is the synopsis from the original dust jacket:
“Number One was a Chinaman – the greatest criminal brain of all time; Number Two was a multi-millionaire; Number Three was a beautiful Frenchwoman; and Number Four was ‘the destroyer,’ the ruthless murderer, with a genius for disguise, whose business it was to remove those who interfered with his masters’ plans. These Four, working together, aimed at establishing a world dominion, and against them were ranged Hercule Poirot, the little Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head, the green eyes and ‘the little gray cells,’ and his friend Hastings. It was Hercule Poirot’s brain, the ‘little gray cells,’ which brought about the downfall of the Big Four, and led to their destruction in the cave in the Dolomites.”
This eighth published novel by Christie reads a little different from the others. It’s divided into 18 chapters and each one feels like a short story. There are lots of characters and crimes to be solved. About half-way through the book I did a little research and discovered why the book read this way. The stories were, in fact, serialized in a magazine (The Sketch in 1924). They were called The Man Who Was No. 4. The Big Four was ‘novelized’ from the original short stories by changing the beginnings and endings of each short story to make it flow like a novel.
According to several of the sources I read, Christie did not like this book, nor the next one, The Blue Train. They were written during a time when she needed the money. She didn’t like writing under that kind of pressure. In fact, she wrote an extra novel and had it stored at her publishers. She wanted a book in reserve just in case she was ever in this position again. Well, Agatha, I know exactly what you mean, on a much smaller scale. I hate it when I get to a day and I have nothing to add to this blog and the pressure is on to create. I’m never happy with what I create under those circumstances. So I see why this book and the next was not among Ms. Christie’s favorites.
I found the book both fun and interesting. Once I understood about the serialization and subsequent novelization, it was interesting to read the rest of the book and try to figure out which was the original serialization. The fun part was watching the egg-shaped, green-eyed master at work solving a problem usually left to master spies and super-heros.
I read this book as part of my Agatha Christie Challenge. For more information and/or to join this on-going challenge visit Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. I also read this book for the R.I.P. Challenge sponsored by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.
I’m off to read the next one: The Mystery of the Blue Train.