Following a discussion with a Fellow of All Souls, Poirot reads up on his mythological namesake. He is unimpressed with Hercules, the man of brawn, and decides that before his final retirement he will undertake twelve labours of the mind and so we are presented with the following short stories:
(1) The Nemean Lion – in which Poirot investigates a dog-napping.
(2) The Lernean Hydra – there is the smoke of gossip but is there the fire of murder?
(3) The Arcadian Deer – in which Poirot investigates the disappearance of a lady’s maid.
(4) The Erymanthian Boar – in which Poirot ascends to new heights.
(5) The Augean Stables – in which Poirot undertakes a cover-up.
(6) The Stymphalean Birds – in which Poirot helps an Englishman abroad.
(7) The Cretan Bull – in which Poirot deals with a madman.
(8) The Horses of Diomedes – in which Poirot investigates a dope ring.
(9) The Girdle of Hyppolita – in which Poirot investigates a missing masterpiece and a missing schoolgirl.
(10) The Flock of Geryon – in which Poirot saves the lambs from the slaughter.
(11) The Apples of the Hesperides – in which Poirot lets others do most of the work.
(12) The Capture of Cerberus – in which Poirot descends into Hell and finds an enormous dog.
This is a fun collection (although there is a lack of the red meat of murder) particularly (1) and (10) with the same guest character who could be said to be Miss Marple gone wrong and has some similarities to Dorothy L. Sayers’ Miss Climpson.
Recurring character development
One of his early successes was the case of a soap manufacturer of Liège who poisoned his wife (1).
Contrary to the David Suchet portrayal, enjoys (presumably) a “hearty lunch of steak and kidney pudding washed down by beer” (2).
His car is a Messarro Gratz (3). This doesn’t seem to be a real car but (minor spoilers) there is this interesting idea on the Agatha Christie forum.
Knows and respects Lementeuil, the Swiss Commissionaire of Police (4).
Uses the alias “Poirier” and claims to be a silk merchant from Lyons (4).
Does not admire the artist Rubens (9).
Has a file labelled “D” which contains the entry “Detective Agencies – Reliable” (11).
He takes the tube i.e. London’s Underground Railway and finds it an unpleasant experience.
Having previously worked for J. Parker Pyne (Parker Pyne Investigates) she now works for Poirot.
Signs of the Times
With the mention in the Foreword of retiring to grow marrows it feels as if this should be between The Big Four and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd however in (11) we have a theft that has taken place ten years’ earlier in 1929, setting these stories around the time of original publication (they were first published as one book in 1947). The timing is further confused in (12) where it is twenty years since Poirot last saw Countess Rossakoff, which would have been at the end of “The Big Four” in 1923, putting the final story in 1943.
Poirot should only have had to undertake ten labours, which was Hercules’ original task; two of his were disqualified leading to twelve in total.
In the context of poisoners, Armstrong is mentioned (2). Herbert Rowse Armstrong (1869 – 1922) was tried and executed for the murder of his wife by arsenic poisoning.
Former Prime Minister John Hammett’s characteristic object is an old raincoat (5). This is compared with Baldwin’s pipe and Chamberlain’s umbrella. Stanley Baldwin was Prime Minister three times (May 1923-Jan 1924, Nov 1924-Jun 1929, and Jun 1935-May 1937) and was succeeded by Neville Chamberlain (May 1937-May 1940).
Mrs Chandler was painted by Orpen (7). Major Sir William Orpen (1878 – 1931) was an Irish portrait painter and also an official First World War artist.
“It is practically impossible to live in Mertonshire unless you have an income that runs into four figures, and what with income-tax and one thing and another, five figures is better” (8). How the value of money changes – this just emphasis what a fortune over a hundred years earlier Mr Bingley’s £5,000 a year and Mr Darcy’s £10,000 a year actually were.
“We have first, as your so admirable Mrs Beeton says, to catch the hare” says Poirot (8) in response to General Grant’s plans for the drug pusher. This phrase does not actually appear in “Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management” (1861). Although I always expected her to be a middle-aged matron, Isabella Beeton actually died at the age of 28. Her husband Samuel founded Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1860 which in 1887 included the first adventure of Sherlock Holmes “A Study in Scarlet”.
Sir Henry Merrivale is referred to (10). He is the main series’ sleuth of Carter Dickson a.k.a. John Dickson Carr.
The Master (10) says “In my Father’s House are many mansions…” which is from John 14:2.
During her trip (10), a lady sees that the people around her have grown larger and says “Like trees walking…” which is what the previously blind man says when Jesus starts to heal him in Mark 8:24.
Poirot gives a spoiler for a Sherlock Holmes story whose title he misquotes when he is discussing possible hiding places for stolen treasures (11).
There is a character called Paul Varesco (12). “The Crime Conductor” (1931) by Philip MacDonald includes a character called Paul Vanesco.
Japp thinks it is silly to call a dog Cerberus “after a packet of salt” (12). He is getting mixed up with the company “Cerebos” who also created “Bisto” gravy powder.
An appropriate quote from Japp (12) given the upcoming general election: “Devil of a job being a Labour Minister, you have to be so careful. Nobody minds a Tory politician spending money on riotous living because the taxpayers think it’s his own money – but when it’s a Labour man the public feel it’s their money he’s spending! And so it is in a manner of speaking.”
References to previous works
Dr Burton mentions Poirot’s brother, Achille, who appeared in The Big Four.
Poirot is holidaying (6) in Herzoslovakia, a country that first appeared in The Secret of Chimneys.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Fulfils “Why – Author from your country”.