2020-01-30

Agatha Christie 100 - The Big Four

The Big Four is Christie's first and only episodic novel. Published when Christie had become a household name after The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, readers flocked to buy her new novel.




Hastings returns to England again and finds that Poirot is getting involved with a world-encompassing crime syndicate, named The Big Four. He decides to stay and give assistance to Poirot. The pair are soon entangled in several episodes involving this mysterious organisation, and while Poirot often manages to right a terrible wrong, the persons responsible continue to elude capture.

This novel was the first after Christie's difficulties with separation and divorce from her first husband, as well as her disappearance for a few weeks in 1926. However, that doesn't mean it was written at that time - no, in fact this novel was fashioned out of a series of short stories that Christie published way back in 1924. Christie mainly created different openings to each short story in order to craft them into different chapters in this overarching story.

But that also means that we cannot blame this hodgepodge of evil superbaddies and secret hideouts on Christie's ordeals, as they were written before they happened. And this is by far the poorest story I've read so far in this re-read, so one has to wonder what on earth compelled Christie to write it. This is closer in style to Christie's adventure thrillers, but at least those other ones had some humour and lightness of touch - a simple sense of fun that this novel doesn't have at all.

Poirot hardly does any detecting like we're used to - there are a couple of episodes which resemble the mystery short stories Christie published in 1923 and which were later collected in Poirot Investigates (the oft mentioned A Chess Problem is one of them), but even those few examples pale in comparison with Christie's regular short stories.

I'll rate this a 12 out of 100. There are few Christie stories that are as bad as this one, though I guess we might find a couple of lower-rated novels when we reach the end of this re-read. Whenever someone tries to poohpooh Ronald Knox's rule "There should be no Chinamen", just direct them towards this story.
1929 1969

Reflecting this novel's standing as a minor work in Christie's catalogue, it only has two Swedish editions. There is a slight variation in the titles - De fyra means The Four, while De fyra stora is a literal translation of the British title.

The first of these covers is hideous in every way. It's quite apparent that a cover such as this one could never be used in these enlightened times, but even aside from that it's just plain ugly.

The Zebra edition from the late 60s is by comparison much better. Another example of that cover staple - a couple of items that signal excitement and mystery - I do wonder what that fetish (or whatever that face is) is doing on this cover.

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