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Claude Darrell

The Big Four
The Big Four First Edition Cover 1927.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
Author Agatha Christie
Cover artist Thomas Derrick
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher William Collins & Sons
Publication date
27 January 1927
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 282 (first edition, hardback)
Preceded by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Followed by The Mystery of the Blue Train

The Big Four is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by William Collins & Sons on 27 January 1927 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. It features Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, and Inspector (later, Chief Inspector) Japp. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.

The structure of the novel is different from other Poirot stories, as it began from twelve short stories (eleven in the US) that had been separately published. This is a tale of international intrigue and espionage, therefore opening up the possibility of more spy fiction from Christie.

The opening chapters are set in Hercule Poirot's apartment in London. There is an abortive railway trip to Southampton and the return trip to London. There is then a visit to an unnamed village in Devon, situated in the vicinity of Dartmoor. The village of Chobham which Poirot visits next is an actual location in Surrey. The action then moves to France, in the Passy area of Paris. The action returns to the United Kingdom in the fictional location of Hatton Chase, seat of the Duke of Loamshire. Followed by a visit to Market Hanford, Worcestershire. The action next returns to London and to London's Chinatown. There is also a visit to a restaurant in Soho. The action then moves abroad to Belgium. There are two trips on ocean-going ships. Finally there is a railway trip from London to Paris and from there to South Tyrol in Italy.

  • Abe Ryland, the so-called American Soap King. He is stated to be richer than John D. Rockefeller and being the richest man in the world. Early in the novel, Ryland attempts to hire Poirot and invites him to Rio de Janeiro, allegedly to investigate the goings-on in a big company there. Poirot is offered a fortune and is tempted to accept. He eventually declines and the plot point is no longer elaborated. Presumably Ryland intended to recruit him for the organization. He dies when the hidden base of the Four explodes. He represents the power of wealth.
  • Madame Olivier, a French woman scientist. She is stated to be a famous nuclear physicist and analytical chemist. Poirot suspects that she has kept secret the true extent of her research with nuclear power. He believes that she has "succeeded in liberating atomic energy and harnessing it to her purpose." She is said to have used gamma rays emitted by radium to perfect a lethal weapon. She is a widow. She used to work with her husband, conducting their research in common until his death. She is said to look more like a priestess out of the past than a modern woman. She dies when the hidden base of the Four explodes. She represents scientific research devoted to political goals.
  • Li Chang Yen, the Chinese leader and mastermind of the group. He is an unseen character who never steps foot out of China, but is discussed often by other characters. He is driven by his own lust for power and the need to establish his personal supremacy. He lacks the military force to pursue conquest by traditional means, but the 20th century is stated to be a century of unrest which offers him other means towards him goal. He is said to have unlimited money to finance operations. His methods include bribery and propaganda. He controls a "scientific force more powerful than the world has dreamed of. It is said that "the men who loom most largely in the public eye are men of little or no personality. They are marionettes who dance to the wires pulled by a master hand, and that hand is Li Chang Yen's". He is the power behind the throne of the East. He is the embodiment of Yellow Peril. His plots are said to include worldwide unrest, labor disputes in every nation, and revolutions in some of them. Elsewhere it is explained that he is a mandarin and lives in a palace of his own in Peking. He oversees human subject research on coolies, with no regard for the death and suffering of his research subjects. He commits suicide at the end.
  • Claude Darrell, known as the Destroyer. He is an obscure English actor and a master of disguise. He is the chief assassin of the group, said to have the finest criminal brain ever known. He appears with ever-changing faces and multiple identities throughout the novel. He can totally transform his physical appearance and his persona. Many of the novel's characters are known or suspected to be among the roles Darrell plays. Darrell is described as being around 33 years old, brown-haired, having a fair complexion, gray-eyed. His height is given at 5 ft. 10 in (1.78 meters). His origins are mysterious. He played at music halls, and also in Repertory plays. He has no known intimate friends. He was in China in 1919. Returned to the United Kingdom by way of the United States. Played a few parts in New York. Did not appear on the stage one night, and has never been heard of since. New York police say his is a most mysterious disappearance. Darrell has one weakness that can give his real identity away. When he dines, Darrell habitually rolls pieces of bread into little balls. He dies when the hidden base of the Four explodes. He is also effectively a spy and represents the secret services and intelligence agencies.
  • Hercule Poirot. The famous private investigator. Having tired of his life in England and dealing with trivial matters, he is tempted to move to Brazil. He has received a monetary offer too good to refuse.
  • Arthur Hastings. Poirot's sidekick in two earlier novels and two short stories. This is his return to the series following The Murder on the Links (1923). In that novel Hastings was planning to marry "Cinderella" and move with her to Argentina. Here we learn that he did as planned and has grown prosperous from ranching. Eighteen months later, he returns to London to take care of some business and to visit Poirot. He briefly works as a secretary of Abe Ryland under the alias Arthur Nevill.
  • Achille Poirot, Hercule's supposed twin brother. He seems to be based on Mycroft Holmes, sibling to Sherlock Holmes. Both characters are equally brilliant to their more famous siblings but too indolent to accomplish much. Achille lacks a mustache and is described by Hercule as his less handsome-twin. Achille is later revealed to be Hercule Poirot himself in disguise.
  • Countess Vera Rossakoff. A flamboyant, eccentric and devious Russian aristocrat who currently has no personal fortune. She previously met Poirot in The Double Clue, where Poirot was smitten to her. She is an agent of the Four who later becomes a double agent. Vera can be seen as Poirot's Irene Adler—they are the only women to catch the eyes of their respective detectives. The character will return for a third and final appearance in The Capture of Cerberus. In this novel she also uses the alias Inez Véroneau. She is both a friend and an adversary to Poirot. She is employed as a secretary by Madame Olivier.
  • Inspector Japp. This marks the second appearance of the character, following The Mysterious Affair at Styles. He is an inspector of Scotland Yard. He identifies Mayerling.
  • Joseph Aarons. A recurring character, who first appeared in The Murder on the Links. He makes appearances in other Poirot tales as well. He is a theatrical agent, so he helps Poirot identify actor Claude Darrell.
  • Ah Ling. Chinese servant to Mr Paynter. Inspector Japp's favorite suspect for the murder.
  • Betsy Andrews. The housekeeper of Jonathan Whalley. She was the one who discovered the corpse and screamed in shock.
  • Colonel Appleby. The American secretary of Abe Ryland.
  • Professor Borgonneau. A Parisian scientist who had contact with John Halliday prior to his disappearance.
  • Mr Bronson. The ranch manager of Hasting's ranch in Argentina. He sends a message of bad news to his boss.
  • Mademoiselle Claude. One of two assistants to Madame Olivier.
  • Pierre Combeau. An old friend of Poirot who happens to owe the detective a favor. He does as Poirot asks him, pulling the emergency cord in the Paris-Calais train. This act allows Poirot to leave the stopped train unobserved.
  • Sydney Crowther. The Right Honourable Home Secretary. Another friend who owes Poirot a favor. He recommends Hastings as a secretary to Abe Ryland. Ryland was working in England at the time and was looking for a new secretary. He later introduces Poirot to Monsieur Desjardeux, the Prime Minister of France.
  • Sonia Daviloff. Niece and housemate of Dr Savaronoff. She inherited a fortune of her own from Madame Gospoja. Her benefactor was herself the widow and sole heiress of a sugar profiteer of the Russian Empire.
  • Deans. The valet to Abe Ryland. He is English-born but has spent years in the United States. He follows his boss in his stay to England.
  • Monsieur Desjardeux. The Prime Minister of France. Poirot discusses the matter of the Big Four with him.
  • Austen Foly, alias Austen Lee. An unseen character, one of the suspects for the real identity of the Destroyer. He originated in a good family. Always had a taste for acting and distinguished himself in that way at Oxford. Brilliant war record. An enthusiast on criminology. He had a nervous breakdown as the result of a motor accident three and a half years before, and has not appeared on the stage since. His present whereabouts are unknown. Age 35, height 5 ft. 9 in (1.52 meters), complexion fair, eyes blue, hair brown.
  • Robert Grant. Also known as Abraham Biggs. A man-servant to Jonathan Whalley of a "rough" background.He is a former prison convict Questioned for the murder and arrested as a suspect.
  • John Halliday. A scientist who visited Paris for a conference and disappeared.
  • Mrs Halliday. Wife of the missing John Halliday. Has no idea what happened to her husband or why.
  • Mr Halsey. The man who arranged Poirot's interview with John Ingles.
  • Captain Harvey. A young agent of the British Intelligence Service. He brings the news that China is politically isolated, that the Big Four will meet in Italy, and that the British, French, and Italian governments have joined forces against. With Poirot as the head of the joined operation.
  • Monsieur Henri. One of two assistants to Madame Olivier.
  • Hodgson. McNeil and Hodgson are Poirot's solicitors.
  • John Ingles. A retired civil servant of reportedly mediocre intellect. He is an expert on China and all things Chinese. He informs Poirot of the identity of Li Chang Yen.
  • James. The footman of Abe Ryland.
  • Captain Kent. A member of the United States Secret Service. He investigates the disappearance of Mr Halliday. He prefers the British laws on alcoholic beverages to those of his own country. He is frustrated with Prohibition.
  • Félix Laon. A tall, thin man who attacks Hastings in the man's hotel room in Paris. In the scuffle, Laon appears to lose his wallet. But it is hinted that the wallet was planted for Hastings to find.
  • Arthur Leversham. Author of a mysterious letter addressed to Abe Ryland.
  • Ernest Luttrell. An unseen character, one of the suspects for the real identity of the Destroyer. Son of a Northern England parson. He was expelled from his public school. Went on the stage at the age of twenty-three. Addicted to drugs. Supposed to have gone to Australia four years before. Cannot be traced after leaving England. Age 32, height 5 ft. 10 in. (1.55 meters), clean-shaven, brown-haired, nose straight, complexion fair, eyes gray.
  • Miss Martin. The auburn-haired stenographer of Abe Ryland. Hastings, who is still married, is charmed with her. This is a continuity nod to Hastings having a soft spot for auburn-haired women. Back in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Hastings was charmed with auburn-haired Cynthia Murdoch and proposed to her. This would letter become a running gag in the series, with Poirot often teasing Hastings. Whenever Hastings suggests the innocence of a young, beautiful, and female murder suspect, Poirot slyly asks, "Does she have auburn hair?" Miss Martin confesses to him that she opened a mysterious letter of their boss.
  • John St. Maur. An unseen character, one of the suspects for the real identity of the Destroyer. He has an assumed name, his real name is unknown. Believed to be of cockney extraction. Used to be a child actor. Did music hall impersonations. Has not been heard of for three years. Age, about 33, height 5 feet 10 in (1.55 meters), slim build, blue eyes, fair colouring.
  • Mr Mayerling. A former member of the Secret Service and a victim of the Big Four. He dies in Poirot's apartment.
  • Mr McNeill. McNeil and Hodgson are Poirot's solicitors. McNeill informs Hastings that they have located Flossie Monro.
  • Inspector Meadows. A representative of the Moretonhampstead police who investigates the death Jonathan Whalley. He is on old friend of Inspector Japp who has recommended Poirot to him. He is willing to have Poirot involved in the case.
  • Mickey. Son of Mrs Templeton from a previous marriage and stepson of Mr Templeton. He is described as mentally-deficient. He blurts out unpleasant suggestions concerning his mother,. He has a nervous habit reminiscent of Claude Darrell.
  • Flossie Monro. An old friend of Claude Darrell. She has bleached blonde hair and a preference for Max Factor and monogrammed shirts. She provides to Poirot information about a personal habit to Darrell that can be used to identify him, regardless of his disguise.
  • Mabel Palmer. A hospital nurse. She approaches Poirot to express her suspicions of foul play at the Templetons' residence.
  • Mr Paynter. A 55-year-old bachelor. He invited a young nephew to settle in his home. The nephew, an artist, accepted. Paynter then died in an "accident" within his own room.
  • Gerald Paynter. Nephew and heir to Mr Paynter. He is an artist, described as being "wild and extravagant". Inspector Japp finds him typical for an artist. He inherits the estate of his deceased uncle.
  • Mrs Pearson. Poirot's landlady and housekeeper. Her tasks include opening the door, handling his correspondence, recording phone messages. She does not otherwise speak.
  • Dr Ridgeway. Poirot's physician.
  • Dr Quentin. The physician blamed for the death of Mr Paynter.
  • Mr Saunders. The man who arranged for former convict Robert Grant to find a job once released from prison. He is said to look like a preacher, albeit with a broken front tooth. He has a tendencty to mince his words when speaking.
  • Dr Savaronoff. The world's second-best chess player. He resides in London, where he was challenged to a game by an American champion.
  • Mr Templeton. An older gentleman who fell ill during his meal. The reason of his illness is undetermined.
  • Mrs Templeton. Wife of Mr Templeton. Poirot narrates a story to her about a wife who poisoned her husband and what happened to her. She is increasingly nervous on hearing the tale.
  • Dr Treves. He hosts a dinner at the home of the Templetons. During the dinner, Poirot falls ill.
  • Jonathan Whalley. Another victim of the Big Four. He is murdered in his own residence, Granite Bungalow in the village of Hoppaton, Devon. He had written to John Ingles, requesting money to escape from the Big Four.
  • Gilmour Wilson. A youthful American chess champion. He challenged Dr Savaronoff to a game and died while playing. Poison is the suspected cause of death.
  • Dr Bolitho. The usual physician for Mr Paynter, away on holiday at the time of Paynter's demise.
  • An unnamed doctor. His role is to pronounce the death of Mayerling.
  • An unnamed man from Hanwell Asylum. He claims Mayerling was a recently-escaped inmate of the asylum.
  • An unnamed Chinese servant of John Ingles. His only distinguishing feature is his apathetic face.
  • An unnamed elderly man from the rural area surrounding Hoppaton. He gives Poirot and Hastings instructions on how to locate the Granite Bungalow, He is also the one to inform them that Jonathan Whalley has been murdered.
  • A group of Slavs and other foreigners who visit Poirot in his flat for mysterious reasons. Described as looking extraordinary and repulsive.
  • An unnamed dark man, thin and middle-aged. He approaches Hastings in a small restaurant in Soho. Strongly "advising" the man to leave England and return to South America.
  • An unnamed Chinese man, former servant of John Ingles. He delivers a cryptic message to Hastings and then dies at St. Giles Hospital of London.
  • An unnamed officer of the steamship Ansoria which was transporting Hastings to South America. He wakes Hastings up to inform him that he is about to change ships. His new destination is Belgium.
  • An unnamed Belgian manservant, elderly in years. The apparent servant of Achille Poirot in his villa. He receives Hastings on behalf of his employer.
  • An unnamed customer of a hotel restaurant at Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy. He has a nervous habit reminiscent of Claude Darrell. Encountering Poirot by chance, the man springs up from his seat and exits in a hurry.
  • An unnamed waiter of a hotel restaurant at Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy. He collides with the speedily exiting customer.
  • The Unexpected Guest: First published in issue 1614 of The Sketch on 2 January 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 1 and 2 of the book – The Unexpected Guest / The Man from the Asylum.
  • The Adventure of the Dartmoor Bungalow: First published in issue 1615 on 9 January 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 3 and 4 of the book – We hear more about Li Chang Yen / The Importance of a Leg of Mutton.
  • The Lady on the Stairs: First published in issue 1616 on 16 January 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 5 and 6 of the book – Disappearance of a Scientist / The Woman on the Stairs.
  • The Radium Thieves: First published in issue 1617 on 23 January 1924. This formed the basis for chapter 7 of the book with the same title.
  • In the House of the Enemy: First published in issue 1618 on 30 January 1924. This formed the basis for chapter 8 of the book with the same title.
  • The Yellow Jasmine Mystery: First published in issue 1619 on 6 February 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 9 and 10 of the book – The Yellow Jasmine Mystery / We investigate at Croftlands.
  • The Chess Problem: First published in issue 1620 on 13 February 1924. This formed the basis for chapter 11 of the book with the slightly revised title of A Chess Problem. Chapter 11 from the novel has also been published as stand-alone short story in reprints.
  • The Baited Trap: First published in issue 1621 on 20 February 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 12 and 13 of the book – The Baited Trap / The Mouse walks in.
  • The Adventure of the Peroxide Blonde: First published in issue 1622 on 27 February 1924. This formed the basis for chapter 14 of the book with the slightly revised title of The Peroxide Blonde.
  • The Terrible Catastrophe: First published in issue 1623 on 5 March 1924. This formed the basis for chapter 15 of the book with the same title.
  • The Dying Chinaman: First published in issue 1624 on 12 March 1924. This formed the basis for chapter 16 of the book with the same title.
  • The Crag in the Dolomites: First published in issue 1625 on 19 March 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 17 and 18 of the book – Number Four wins the trick / In the Felsenlabyrinth. It was also the final Poirot story that Christie wrote for The Sketch.
  • The Unexpected Guest: First published in the March 1927 issue (Volume 44, Number 5) which formed chapters 1 and 2 of the book.
  • The Dartmoor Adventure: First published in the April 1927 issue (Volume 44, Number 6) which formed chapters 3 and 4 of the book.
  • The Lady on the Stairs: First published in the May 1927 issue (Volume 45, Number 1) which formed chapters 5 and 6 of the book.
  • The Radium Thieves: First published in the June 1927 issue (Volume 45, Number 2) which formed chapter 7 of the book.
  • In the House of the Enemy: First published in the July 1927 issue (Volume 45, Number 3) which formed chapter 8 of the book.
  • The Yellow Jasmine Mystery: First published in the August 1927 issue (Volume 45, Number 4) which formed chapters 9 and 10 of the book.
  • The Chess Problem: First published in the September 1927 issue (Volume 45, Number 5) which formed chapter 11 of the book.
  • The Baited Trap: First published in the October 1927 issue (Volume 45, Number 6) which formed chapters 12 and 13 of the book.
  • The Peroxide Blonde: First published in the November 1927 issue (Volume 46, Number 1) which formed chapter 14 of the book.
  • The Enemy Strikes: First published in the December 1927 issue (Volume 46, Number 2) which formed chapters 15 and 16 of the book.
  • The Crag in the Dolomites: First published in the January 1928 issue (Volume 46, Number 3) which formed chapters 17 and 18 of the book.
  • 1927, William Collins and Sons (London), 27 January 1927, Hardcover, 282 pp
  • 1927, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1927, Hardcover, 276 pp
  • 1957, Penguin Books, Paperback (Penguin number 1196), 159 pp
  • 1961, Pan Books, Paperback (Great Pan G427), 155 pp
  • 1964, Avon Books (New York), paperback
  • 1965, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), paperback, 159 pp
  • 1965, Dell Books (New York), paperback, 173 pp
  • 1974, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardback, 414 pp
  • 1984, Berkley Books, Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) (New York), paperback, 198 pp
  • 2006, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1927 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, 6 November 2006, Hardcover,


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