The Big Four: “I have met people who enjoy a channel crossing; men who can sit calmly in their deck chairs and, on arrival, wait until the boat is moored, then gather their belongings together without fuss and disembark.”
Detective: Hercule Poirot
Published: January 1927
Length: 282 pages
Setting: London, Southampton, Devon, Surrey, Paris, Hatton Chase (fictional), Worcestershire, Belgium, South Tyrol (Italy)
Returning from Argentina after an 18-month absence, Hasting finds his old friend, Detective Hercule Poirot ready to depart for South American himself. He has been summoned by a client, Abe Ryland, who is a powerful man and in urgent need of his services. But when Poirot finds a dishevelled, emaciated man in his bedroom with no clue as to how he got there, his departure is delayed. As the man mutters Poirot’s name, while writing the number 4, Hastings speculates on a crime syndicate named The Big Four, whereupon the man reveals the possible players:
- Li Chang Yen, a political mastermind
- A man who is known as “$” who is often represented with a star and two stripes, therefore he is a suspected wealthy American
- A French woman
- A person with the appellation of “The Destroyer.”
On his way to the ship, Poirot suspects a ruse to remove him from London and returns to his flat where they find that the man has been murdered.
So begins the mystery, as Hastings and Poirot race against time to explain mysterious deaths and discover the main players before they can take over the world.
Christie relies too much on flash and dash and colossal espionage and political intrigue to capture the reader’s interest at the expense of the finer points of a mystery novel such as craft and detail and finesse. While mysteries can require some suspension of disbelief, this one overdoes it in both form and in content.
I read this book 6 months ago and apologize for the thin review, but I didn’t really care for it at all, making it my least favourite Christie so far. It’s certainly a disappointment after her stellar creation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. After reading some background material, I discovered that the novel was a compilation of separate stories and it shows in its unevenness. The Scotsman in its review of 1927 said: “The activities of Poirot himself cannot be taken seriously, as one takes, for example, Sherlock Holmes. The book, indeed, reads more like an exaggerated parody of popular detective fiction than a serious essay in the type. But it certainly provides plenty of fun for the reader who is prepared to be amused. If that was the intention of the authoress, she has succeeded to perfection,” and Robert Barnard, a well-known English mystery writer stated: “This thriller was cobbled together at the lowest point in Christie’s life, with the help of her brother-in-law. Charity is therefore the order of the day, and is needed, for this is pretty dreadful, and (whatever one may think of him as a creation) demeaning to Poirot.” If Christie attempted any more espionage novels, one can only hope for improvement.
⇐ The Murder of Roger Ackroyd The Mystery of the Blue Train ⇒