Saturday, May 09, 2020

Book Review - Four Just Men

The Four Just Men is a story about a group of men with a degree of intellect and financial means that allows them to dispense their own form of justice when they feel that conventional justice will not do an adequate job. In this book, they have sent a death threat to a ranking politician threatening to kill him unless he kills a Bill that he's working to put into law.

We are only given a few details about the Four Just Men and their history. In addition to trying to stop this bill, they have also meted out their own justice in other countries around the globe where they feel only they are able to bring balance where the law has failed.

I found it intriguing that the book focuses on this group of vigilantes, setting them up as the heroes versus the government and the police. The idea of vigilante justice like this is something that's pretty common in dystopian novels or in cases where justice is meted out against a person or organization that is blatantly criminal (as seen in superhero stories) but in this story, I didn't feel that sufficient evidence was given to show that the actions of the Four Just Men was wholly warranted.

Setting that aside, I found the story and its methods to be interesting. The men portrayed as highly civilized men of honor. Even their terroristic processes are bound by honor as they are sworn to first deliver warnings and demands to their target in order to give him ample time to "do the right thing." In other words, they do not glory in murder but rather just want to convince people to live and uphold the law in the way they desire.

Most of the action is seen through the point of view of the Four Just Men as they work through the machinations of their plot. They deliberate amongst themselves as to whether or not the Foreign Secretary will accede to their request or if they will be forced to kill him. There is also a bit of unease in their group since during this particular mission they were required to employ the assistance from someone outside their group and they are unsure of his reliability and trustworthiness.

At the same time, we see the actions of Scotland Yard and of the Foreign Secretary and other government officials as they deal with the incoming threats and work to find and stop the actions of the Four Just Men. I was pleased to see that Scotland Yard is presented as highly competent rather than a bunch of fools. They struggle to find the Four Just Men because they are outmatched, not because they are incompetent. I also enjoyed the discussions presented between the politicians. The stubborn nature felt a bit stereotypically satirical but also potentially realistic.

Without spoiling too much, I will say that the Four Just Men did carry out multiple acts of mayhem in the course of the book. Their methods were mysterious and extravagant while also employing methods that could be explained with simple logic. This unraveling of the plot was certainly enjoyable.

Overall, I had mixed feelings on this novel both while reading it and upon completing it. As mentioned, I found the character interactions and development to be fun and interesting. The mystery and its reveal were also fun. The main problem I had was around the ambiguity of who I should truly be rooting for.

I think it is in that grey area that this novel truly shines. It makes a stark claim of good versus evil but it leaves the nuances blurry around the edges. In this, it mirrors the real world in many ways. All too often we hope for clearly defined boundaries of right versus wrong as we look to see justice carried out but instead we can usually find reasons to show at least some sympathy for both sides of the argument. In those cases, who is to decide where the balance truly lies and who is it that should be judge, jury and executioner? It is these lingering thoughts that make this novel stand out as a hidden classic to be enjoyed more than a century later.

4 out of 5 stars

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