First published in 1927, The Big Four reminded me of a 70’s Bollywood masala entertainer. Powerful villains, look-alike long separated twins, impostors, kidnapping, a long chain of mysterious murders, a big conspiracy and a happily ever after at the end of it……Sounds familiar…isn’t it? Especially so with all the remakes we have suffered recently of films from those good old days…
|Book Title||:||The Big Four|
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For the plot, it starts with major Hastings finding Hercule Poirot in dramatic preparations for departure to South America. Considering that Poirot hates sea voyages we wonder how is this happening? The answer is the preposterous amount of money offered for his services by an American millionaire Abe Ryland. But, in midst of all these, a stranger stumbles into their house in a highly agitated condition with a cryptic message. Soon he tells them the story of an organization called The Big Four.
This is a powerful ring of four men: Number 1 is a Chinese – he is the brains. Number 2 is an American – He is the money. Number three is a Frenchwoman – she is the technology, and Number 4 is an English man – he is the destroyer.
Poirot and Hastings do depart for the station after listening to this, but Poirot changes his mind and they come back – only to find the stranger strangled. Inspector Japp arrives and identifies him as a member of British intelligence. So, it seems that the Big Four story is not just a fantasy after all. Poirot decides to take on “The Big Four”.
The quest takes them to John Ingles, a wealthy man with elaborate first hand knowledge about China. He validates that Number 1 could be Li Chang Yen who has dramatically risen on Chinese Political scene. Next destination is Hoppaton where a probable source of information in form of Mr Jonathan Whalley has been murdered. Poirot solves the murder, is convinced that the killer was number 4, but with no further clues on the tracks of the Big Four.
The next thread in the story is that of a missing British scientist Halliday who went to Paris for a conference and disappeared mysteriously. Poirot and Hasting come to Paris and end up meeting a prominent French scientist madame Olivier. They also meet their old friend countess Rosakoff. After this encounter, she retrieves Halliday for them but he is too scared to speak. Poirot and Hastings are cleverly trapped in Madame Olivier’s laboratory but Poirot manages to get them out of a tricky situation once more. However, by now, they know the identity of number 3 and have a fair idea of who is number 2.
Therefore, it is time for Hastings to do some sleuthing and he takes up a job as secretary of Abe Ryland, imposing as a Captain Neville. Brave he is, but not the best of brains as we know, and Rylland successfully lures him into a trap. He is saved by timely intervention of police, but they are back to square one as far as the Big Four is concerned. Cut to death of Mr Paynter in Worchestershire with Chinese servants in the house. Very strange murder this proves to be with the only clue being the words “the yellow jasmine”. The murderer is none other than elusive number 4. A month later, yet another mysterious death- the chess grandmaster Gilmour Wilson with a Russian connection. Its number 4 again.
But, slow as it appears, Poirot must be moving in the right direction, because the villains are panicking. They have kidnapped major Hasting’s wife in Argentina. Hastings arrives in Chinatown as asked and is forced to write a letter to bring Poirot in the Lion’s den. But, Poirot brings Scotland Yard and they successfully raid the house. All the men however escape and Poirot ensure Hastings that his wife is safe. Also, by now Poirot has successfully put together details of some British actors who he believes could be possible candidates for number 4. The killer confirms his identity as he murders an old friend whom Poirot had been interviewing.
Things are becoming more serious on the political scene and Poirot and Hastings once again very narrowly escape from number 4. But have they? They come home and there is a matchbox full of chemicals waiting for them, explosion and blackout……Hasting is unconscious and Poirot is killed…what? yes, the hero appears to have died….
Hastings is enraged by his friend’s death and despite of several warnings, decides to continue the search and avenge him. A few clues bring him to Belgium, where he meets his lost friend…sorry, his twin brother. Enter Achille Poirot….Together they leave for Italy to have a final face-off with the villains…
Full of action and drama, with winding and unwinding side tracks and stories, this is a big canvas indeed. Each murder could be a story on its own. The story is slow moving but as Poirot says – this is one of the most interesting cases of his life and everything else will appear very tame and boring after this……….
Book cover page dust cover curtsey: Wikipedia
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