The Big Four (1927) – Agatha Christie

Title: The Big Four
Author: Agatha Christie
Date published: 1927
Publisher: Fontana
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

I will begin this review by stating that I am a huge Agatha Christie fan, and it’s a little bit of a pity that this is the first book of hers that I will be reviewing on here. However please take comfort in knowing that I will be reading and reviewing many, many more of her delightful mysteries.

The reason for me stating that it is a pity that I chose The Big Four (1927) as the first Christie is only because it is not a favourite of mine. This does not mean that I did not enjoy it. As with all of the books I have read of the famous British authoress I was transfixed from the first page and I didn’t really pause very long between chapters because (as usual) I was desperate to find out what happens.  The reason for it not being my favourite and only receiving 3 of a possible 5 stars is merely because I knew this was not one of her typical novels. It was in fact published originally as a series of twelve short stories. This in turn seems to give the completed ‘novel’ a somewhat stilted reading. At times Christie is forced to repeat significant details in the narrative in order to refresh the memories of her original readers. As a reader now I was not pausing for weeks or days between chapters and this repetition therefore seemed slightly tedious.

This is not to say that I did not absolutely love this story. From the point of view of a Captain Arthur Hastings, who is a close friend of Christie’s most lovable and famous detective the Belgian Hercule Poirot (her second most famous and beloved detective being the rather nosy Miss Marple) the story begins with Hastings traveling from South America to England to visit Poirot. Poirot on the other hand was on his way to visit Hastings as well as solve a case. When they meet up in England the detective is on his way out and cannot believe this unbelievable situation. He feels compelled to leave nonetheless as he states: “I have passed my word…the word of Hercule Poirot. Nothing but a matter of life and death could detain me now” (1965: 9).

When a stranger appears in the detective’s apartment and subsequently dies mysteriously the two men are forced to conclude that something foul is afoot. Cancelling his trip abroad the two friends become embroiled in a series of murders and incidences and cases of mistaken identity that all seem to link back to the mysterious crime syndicate known only as ‘The Big Four’. All they know of this group is that there are four members and each one hails from a different country. Number One is the Chinese Li Chang Yen, and there is very little known of him outside of China. Number Two is simply described with a dollar sign; Number Three is known to be French and Number Four is the most mysterious and elusive member of all. There is almost nothing known of this member.

As time goes by Hastings and Poirot become more and more convinced that this so-called Big Four are not only responsible for a few murders, but also of some major international espionage and serious crimes dating back years. They have never been discovered and therefore never convicted of any crimes. This of course makes this whole mystery a lot bigger than anything the Belgian has ever been involved in.

What is quite interesting is that Christie allows the members of The Big Four to constantly poke light-hearted fun at Poirot’s reputation and to prey on his weaknesses. There is a somewhat unusually playful approach taken that is not always evident in the author’s other work.

I am giving The Big Four 3 stars because it is great, but it lacked a certain reality that Christie’s previous work maintained. Perhaps if I had read it as a serial collection I would think differently.

More Agatha Christie’s by yours truly:

Partners in Crime (1929) -Agatha Christie

Appointment with Death (1938) – Agatha Christie

Sparkling Cyanide (1945) – Agatha Christie

The Listerdale Mystery (1934) – Agatha Christie

The Pale Horse (1961) – Agatha Christie

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