The Big Four (Agatha Christie)

By Agatha Christie

First published: UK: Collins, 1927; USA: Dodd Mead, 1927

A gleeful parody of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories, with lots of good murders, including an electrified chessboard.  One of my favorite Christies growing up, and still lots of fun.


Number One was a Chinaman—the greatest criminal 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.  Its [sic] 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.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (3 February 1927): M. Poirot, the Belgian detective who has figured in others of Mrs. Christie’s tales, is in very good form in this latest series of adventures. The device which made “Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” such a puzzling problem for the readers of detective fiction is one that a writer cannot easily employ a second time, and indeed the present story is not so much the clearing up of a mystery as a recital of Poirot’s encounters with one of the so familiar groups of international crooks of almost unlimited power who seek to dominate the world. From such a tale M. Poirot is the latest to rescue civilisation with the aid of his friend Captain Hastings, who, as a foil to the great detective, is as dense as ever.

Sat R (5th February 1927, 140w): As a detective-story The Big Four is a failure.  It has some merits as a ‘shocker’; but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has a prior claim to many of its best ideas.

Nation and Ath (Leonard Woolf, 26th February 1927, 230w): The theme is too hackneyed for even the most skilful composer to make anything very original out of it.  Mrs. Christie shows her great skill by the ingenuity and economy with which every now and again she manages to squeeze a real thrill out of an ancient situation.

Books (NY Herald Tribune) (Will Cuppy, 25th September 1927, 120w): Novel clews, brand-new modes of slaughter and numerous suitable settings are among the treats, all excellently managed by Captain Hastings, a narrator of the Dr. Watson persuasion.