The Big Six
The Big Six
Published by Jonathan Cape in November, 1940.
Hardback: Jonathan Cape ISBN 978-0224606394
Paperback: Red Fox ISBN 978-0099427247
E-book: Random House Children’s Books (from 30 June, 2011)
Also available as an abridged audiobook (Gabriel Woolf)
In early 1938 Ransome’s friend, Margaret Renold, suggested he write a detective story as a second Norfolk Broads novel. Ransome liked the idea. He began a draft, but then put it aside at Cape’s request in order to concentrate on Secret Water.
In January, 1940, he returned to his sequel for Coot Club. Even his wife Evgenia was positive, telling him that the draft was “better than usual”. By May he was working on the revision and the biggest problem seemed to be the new book’s title. Ransome considered Hot Water, Not Us, Coots in Trouble and Who the Mischief? whilst his publisher was keen on The Death and Glories (after the name of Joe, Bill and Pete’s boat). Ransome was worried that the latter sounded too warlike, so eventually they agreed on The Big Six.
As it happened, the war did play a role, as the original blocks for the book’s illustrations were blown up within hours of their completion. Fortunately Ransome’s illustrations (less the end-paper map) survived, so new blocks could be made and the book published on time, albeit with an end-paper map borrowed from Coot Club.
Boat-builders’ sons Joe, Bill and Pete are unjustily accused of one of the worst possible crimes on the river: casting off other people’s boats. As the incidents multiply and hosility mounts they, and their Coot Club friends, Tom, Dick and Dorothea, are forced to become detectives in a desperate race to clear their names.
“It’s the Big Five really,” said Dorothea. “They’re the greatest detectives in the world. They sit around in their cubby holes in Scotland Yard solving one mystery after another.”