Book Review: The Big Four

BigFourThe Big Four

Agatha Christie

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.

agatha_christie_rcRIPI 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.

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10 Responses to Book Review: The Big Four

  1. Beth F says:

    Thanks for the background about Christy. I didn’t know about her not liking this novel or her writing ahead so she wouldn’t be in that predicament. Interesting.

  2. I have never ever read an Agatha Christie book! So one of these days I’ll have to do that – maybe I’ll pick the one you give as your favorite at the end of the challenge!

  3. Great review – helfpul research gives great context. I will have to read her at some point – I am with Rhapsody, and have never read one of her books.

  4. Kathy says:

    Every time I read one of your Agatha Christie reviews I wonder why I’ve never read any of her work. I have a feeling you’re going to inspire me before it’s all over with!

  5. Bumbles says:

    I wonder how it was that she had the ability to write a good book purely as a reserve! If I could write something great enough that I’d want to see it published I don’t think i could just sit on it. I’d fall back on it right away! Not to mention the fact that I’d never have the time just for a reserve book. I hardly have the time for posting what I want, much less writing back-ups – though I do have a brainstorming list of topics I dip into when I get lazy or my mind turns to mush.

  6. Stacy says:

    Interesting that she just did it for the money. I know what you mean about trying to create a blog post under pressure. I can’t imagine being able to produce a book that someone would want ot read under such pressure! She must have worked well under pressure.

  7. Jenners says:

    In a way, it sounds like the story behind the book was more interesting than the book itself!!!

  8. Kerrie says:

    I hadn’t realised that about how it was written Margot. It explains a lot.

  9. vinay says:

    great poet……helped me so much

  10. Pingback: Review: The Bog Four, 1927 (Hercule Poirot #4) by Agatha Christie – A Crime is Afoot

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