Arthur Ransome Trust

Putting Ransome on the Map

The Big Six

Background to The Big Six

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). But Ransome worried that the latter sounded too warlike. Eventually they agreed on The Big Six, a reference to Scotland Yard’s finest detectives that Dorothea explains within the book.

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. New blocks were made and the book was 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.

First publication

Published by Jonathan Cape in November, 1940.


  • In Print
  • Jonathan Cape (hb) ISBN 978-0224606394
  • Vintage (pb) ISBN 978-0099589358
  • Red Fox (pb) ISBN 978-0099427247
  • E-book: Random House Digital Editions
  • Audiobook:
  • Abridged Audiobook: Gabriel Woolf

Ransome's drawing of two flags, used in the Big Six, our swallows and amazons series logo

“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.”


Also in Swallows & Amazons Series

Continue exploring Ransome’s bibliography:

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