My fellow Agathytes on Goodreads are currently reading all of Christie’s novels in publication order. One book per month. This month we turned to The Big Four, a book that deservedly lands in the bottom percentile of any Christie “Best of” list.

It’s not a great book. It’s one of the worst Christie’s. It is surpassed, in my opinion only by Postern of Fate, The Secret of Chimneys, and Passport to Frankfurt in its ridiculousness.

Be that as it may, I have a soft spot for this book. It is so bonkers that I love comparing it to the best of the worst classic international thrillers, and they don’t come much worse than James Bond for me.
In a way, I feel Poirot’s nemesis – the mysterious No. 4 – should share the same acclaim and notoriety as Dr. No. And why not? Much of the plot of The Big Four seems to have been a blueprint for Fleming’s much later work. Whether Fleming would have acknowledged such source… Who knows?

Of course, I am writing this while firmly implanting my tongue into my cheek.

Still, I like The Big Four even if I can acknowledge that it is a ridiculous book with a ridiculous plot and that the characters and story are all over the place. It really is not one of Christie’s fines works, and I feel it is important to point this out to anyone who picked up The Big Four as either their first Christie or their first Poirot novel. Seriously, The Big Four is not representative of Christie’s other books and is not representative of the Poirot series.

Christie wrote The Big Four shortly after her separation/divorce from her first husband, an event that shook her to her core and left her both devastated an unable to write. It also left her with the pressure of having to write for a pay check. So, when her former brother-in-law suggested that she try and combine some Poirot short stories she had drafted into a novel, The Big Four was the result. This also explains the episodic and disjointed feel of the book.

I truly believe that the reader is put at a disadvantage having to hear the story through Hastings’ eyes.

BUT…Isn’t it amazing that for all the things that are ludicrous and don’t work in this book, it seems to have fledgling plots of so many fun stories are Christie wrote later or? In the same way that she used her short stories (some of them anyway) as test pieces for later novels, The Big Four (which also originated as ideas for short stories) also seems to be a source for stories that were later developed much more in individual novels.

All of this aside, I do not want to write a full review of the book. Also, I already penned my first impressions on reading the book for the first time back in 2017 here.

No. On this particular re-read, I opted to have some fun with the book and see if I could check off all of the Detection Club rules that Christie broke in this book.
I know that the decathlon of “commandments” only came into play 2 or 3 years after The Big Four was published, but I was really intrigued how many contraventions there were in this one. Not that Agatha really stuck to the list in her other books… It was just for fun.

Anyway, below is my report. Again, I was having fun here … nothing serious. But damn, I like a completed list.


Ten Commandments of The Detection Club

1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

Well, to be fair, No. 4 is mentioned pretty early on … even if we do not actually get to see him. Does he really exist? Poirot at the end of the book remarks that:

A great brain, my friend, a great brain. But I wish I had seen the face of the man who was Number Four… Supposing that, after all—but I romance. He is dead.

So, does this even count as actually containing a baddie at all? I’m counting it as a WTF? 😉
Also, see my thoughts on Item # 7 below. XD

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

Surely, Poirot’s own intelligence and intuitive powers are simply out of this world and not natural at all.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

Erm, I belive there were two secret passages? Is this right?

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

I’m not sure this is explained at the end of the book, but I am intrigued how one of the victims was killed by some electric shock device.

“The cause of the last death was never determined, but I was told by a doctor who saw the corpse that it was burnt and shrivelled as though a wave of electrical energy of incredible power had passed through it.’ “

Update on finishing the book: The device is not really explained, but we do have a “high energy beam” which I guess is something similar to a laser and was taken straight out of a sci-fi pulp fiction novel.

So, we can check this one off, too.

5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.
[Editor’s note: At the time, trashy, mass-media mysteries always featured a character of Chinese descent. This rule meant the writer should avoid cliche plot devices, although yes, it sounds totally racist.]

We can tick off this one quite early on in the story. It is all about a “Chinaman”. I wonder if Christie did this on purpose to mock the genre. I mean, we all know she could to better. LoL.

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

Erm, where would Poirot be without his intuition???

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

Well, … I’m in the mood for a controversial conspiracy theory … because it fits in so well with the rest of this book:

When Poirot says:
A great brain, my friend, a great brain. But I wish I had seen the face of the man who was Number Four… Supposing that, after all—but I romance. He is dead.

What if Poirot was No. 4 all along? What if he got bored – he was about to change his life in search for something new at the beginning of the book – and felt he that the only way to occupy his time with a worthy opponent was if Poirot himself was his own nemesis?
You know, like people argue that Holmes needed Moriarty and that the scene at the Reichenbach Falls was really only Holmes wrestling with his dark side???

So, what if Poirot suffered from a spell of boredom – and potentially food poisoning – that made him go loopy and embrace a life of crime for a bit? Like, you remember when Superman went bad? …

I’ll leave that there. ;D

8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

*BT coughs*
“Poirot loves being mysterious. He will never part with a piece of information until the last possible moment.”

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

I’m focusing on the second part of the rule here. As much as I love Hastings, I cannot in good conscience say that his intelligence is only “slightly” below that of the average reader. Ok, maybe I’m inferring from Murder on the Links here, where Hastings takes his date to a crime scene and … Anyway, Hastings is also an idiot in this book as evidenced early on in the story by Hastings’ reference to “brain fever”.

“‘For you, Hastings,’ he said, ‘everything is far-fetched that comes not from your own imagination; for me, I agree with this gentleman. But continue, I pray, monsieur.’ “

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

Poirot may have mentioned him, and most readers will have seen through this from the start, but nothing (NOTHING I tell ya!) will prepare anyone for “Achille”. WTF? Just … WHY?????