Three Grand Dames of Mystery: “The Labours of Hercules” by Agatha Christie

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Hercule Poirot has decided he is ready to retire but wants one final challenge, so he looks to his namesake in The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie. He decides to follow the 12 labors of Hercules, taking a dozen cases that he models after the labors that Hercules had to perform as penance for having killed his wife and children.

Poirot finds a unique way to adapt each of the 12 tasks to his detection career, some coming across as a bit of a stretch, but Poirot manages to connect each job to his task. Since a dozen labors are too many toy summarize here, I am going to explain just the first and last of his tasks.

The Nemean Lion: In the Greek myth, the Nemean Lion captured women that it brought to its cave and used them as bait to kill warriors. The lion had fur that couldn’t be penetrated by arrows, so Hercules strangled it with his own hands.

In this version, Hercule Poirot gets a letter from a husband upset that his wife’s Pekingese dog had been kidnapped and ransomed. The dog was stolen when the wife’s companion took it to the park and was distracted by a cute baby, during which time someone cut the lead from her and took the dog away. Though the wife paid the ransom, her husband is upset about this and hires Poirot to get to the bottom of this, which he discovers to be an epidemic among the wealthy women with Pekingese dogs and companions who get distracted by cute babies in the park. Poirot finds this interesting because it is the husband who summons him instead of the wife. From here Poirot does a series of investigations that lead to an ingenious denouement. In the end, Poirot points out that this case does fit the Nemean Lion because the name for the Pekingese dog means a little lion.

I really enjoy this story and find the conclusion fun and clever.

Capture Cerburus from Hell: On his way up from the subway, Poirot sees his old friend the Countess Vera Rossakoff, going down. When he asks her where he can find her, she calls out, “in Hell!” This puzzles the detective, until his secretary Miss Lemon informs him that Hell is a new popular nightclub. When Poirot visits, he finds creative decorations on the walls and floors, including statements on each step, the good intentions that pave the way to hell. The nightclub’s bouncer is a giant dog, Cerburus, who guards the entrance, and the only way past is to give him a treat that is offered nearby. Meeting interesting people at the nightclub, Poirot also spots a plainclothes Scotland Yard detective and learns that the spot is suspected of being a center of crime. Poirot solves the mystery in a creative way that involves bringing up Cerburus from Hell.

This story is particularly fun and delightful especially with all the ambiance of Hell, a fun conclusion to the series of short stories that follow the labors of Hercules.

This book is a rather enjoyable one, but it seems to be one that has split opinions on. My mother, another Agatha Christie fan, does not particularly like this book. However, I enjoy it more, probably because I have read the labors of the original Hercules and enjoy the way Christie adapts each piece of the myth in such a unique way.

Hugh Fraser gives a great performance as narrator of the book. As always, he entertains while reading the stories.

It is hard to rate this book because some stories are much stronger than others. I enjoy many of them but find some to be a bit tiresome and less pleasurable. I enjoy the creativity in unifying the short stories. But since I have to rate the book, I’ll give it 3.5 stars.

To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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