Notes On The Labours of Hercules

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1947

Motive for Murders:

Facial Recognition (the Erymanthian Boar case)

Love/Jealousy (the Lernean Hydra case)

 

Motive of Crimes: Wealth (for the ten other cases)

Plot:  Hercule Poirot investigated a dozen of curious cases that bore resemblances to the legend of Hercules:

Twelve Tasks of Hercules, known as The Labours of Hercules

1. The Nemean Lion:  the kidnap of Pekinese dogs.

2. The Lernean Hydra: vicious rumours sparked by the death of a village doctor’s wife

3. The Arcadian Deer: a missing Russian ballerina

4. The Erymathian Boar: the hunt  for a criminal gang

5. The Augean Stables: counter-rumour in British politics

6. The Stymphalean Birds: a targeted victims for long-term blackmailing

7. The Cretan Bull: the madness of a jealous man

8.  The Horses of Diomedes: a drug gang recruiting young people

9. The Flock of Geryon:  a psychopath/a serial killer in a religious cult

10. The Girdle of Hyppolita: a stolen masterpiece and the disappearance of a Canon’s daughter

11. The Apples of Hesperides: a stolen Borgia goblet

12. The Capture of Ceberus: saving an old friend from an organised crime

 

Highlights:

Why twelve Herculean tasks, should you wonder? Enter Dr. Burton, the Classics scholar, who visited Poirot one day.  The former was dismayed by the latter’s plan of retiring and dismissed the idea by showing the virtue of Classics.

The result was for Hercule to perform the Labours of Hercules and lived up to his namesake. Starring  mortal humans  Dr. Burton was Hera (for his patronising views) and the two “deities” who assisted Poirot were none other than George, Poirot’s capable  valet/manservant, in the shoes of Hermes and Miss Lemon, the super efficient secretary as Athena (Christie did not forget to stress upon Miss Lemon’s lack of beauty and the fact that Poirot to the secretary’s mind was merely an employer – no more no less). And the King Eurytheus? It would not have been Christie, would it, if the detail had been revealed from the outset.

There were twelve clients whom the sleuth encountered along the way. In three cases he stumbled into them during the holidays. In two other cases, murders occured  beforehand.  Just like the god’s tasks, the cases Poirot had taken made him go to places – as far as Europe was concerned. Hence a touch of Danish and Russian in between. Moreover, there was the good old Inspector Japp too.

Furthermore, there was a myriad of disguised identities, drug effects and mental disorders in half of the cases. Not only did the perpetrators use those in different ways but also Poirot himself had a false identity once, albeit unsuccessful. In the Erymanthrian Boar case, he referred  himself “a silk merchant from Lyons” to an American. Unfortunately, his distinctive appearance did matter. But for the help of the latter (of course in the nick of time) the Belgian would have been killed. Had it been a bad joke on him on the authoress’s part? Or was it her way of saying that Poirot was a merely a mortal being?

In the tales, each task was supposed to be harder, if not less possible than before.  In Christie’s world, however, it just had to be either more interesting or the circumstances   more bewildering. Take the example of the settings, from a hotel in Switzerland ten thousand feet above the sea level to a “Hell”.

The Cretan Bull case might remind readers about an old friend’s betrayal in The Sittaford Mystery (1931). Similarly, a targeted victim in Evil Under The Sun (1941) was echoed in the Stymphalian Birds case. A young girl in her twenties under the influence of drugs would jog the memory to Third Girl (1966). Besides, there was a glimpse of Poirot’s past;  his brother’s name and the impact of his Catholic upbringing  – in a good way, by the way.

X-Ray News in the Augean Stables case? The Last Cover of the News of the World after the phone hacking scandal.

I must say a spell of politics in the Augean Stables case was a surprise. Much as I appreciated her effort to put politics in perspective, I could not agree with the realisation that Poirot would have had his share of doing a “dirty job” for politicians. Given his famous “passion for truth”, the case astounded me. On the one hand, the ugly truth would have to come out sooner or later. On the other, was it wise should the truth be compensated for the greater good?  Although the drama Christie created was brilliant.  Besides, the tangled business between politics and media was the chief attraction in the Leveson Inquiry.  Ultimately, here was the question: whose reality the public might want to believe?

Above all, her opening sentence for a part in the Horses of Diomedes case was extremely clever. It was as follows:

It has been said, with or without justification for the statement, that everyone has an aunt in Torquay.

For it mirrored the technique Jane Austen used in the famous opening of Pride and Prejudice: Austen’s view in a third-person voice.

Finally, there are two things Christie has left for readers to decide. First, had she accomplished to make a great adaptation of the legends? Second, what would have been the most interesting case?  As you reflect, personally my favourite was the Flock of Geryon case.

The Twists: (one for each tale)

  1. The foreseeable plan of poisoning a wife in the pursuit of marrying a secretary
  2. The framing of Miss Jean Montcriffe
  3. The different names of Nitta Valetta spoken by her parents
  4. Poirot’s near death scenes
  5. Diana Maberly’s shaving cream
  6. Poirot’s turning up at the hotel where the mother and daughter stayed
  7. The last Chandlers
  8. General Grant’s Gout Leg, which was knocked by Poirot with his stick
  9. Amy Carnaby’s joining the cult
  10. Winnie King’s painting for Miss Pope
  11. The thief’s daughter was a nun
  12. A dog’s whisperer

The Most Fascinating Character: Amy Carnaby

A spinster, she was a Lady’s companion and a dog sitter. She owned Augustus, Poirot’s “Nemean Lion”, whom she trained very well to do “the campaign of Pekinese dogs”. Having appeared in the first case, Miss Carnaby was described by her employer Lady Hoggin as “a good soul though foolish, of course”. Other said that she was not precisely intellectual but tactful.

She visited her disabled sister, Emily, on Thursdays on her day out; the fact Poirot gathered through his manservant George. Such habit led him stand in Emily Carnaby’s doorstep one day.  Amy opened the door much to her shock; yet  once  she recovered, she understood she had to come clean with what she had done.

The conversation Miss Carnaby and Poirot had provided readers with an honest observation about the class difference in British society. As a working class, Amy’s thoughts on her employer would relate to a lot of readers in her position. Much was about a lack of respect for her kind.  If anything, readers who had read The Hollow (1946) might find quite a few similarities between Amy Carnaby and Gerda Christow.

Having parted in a good term with Poirot, she approached him later in the Flock of Geryon case. For she was concerned about a religion cult which had preoccupied her good friend’s mind. Further on, her penchant for a stimulating life made her accept Poirot’s undercover task by penetrating into the cult.

Nonetheless, she astonished Poirot towards the end when she refused to collaborate any more – just as the case had been on the verge of success. There was a moment when readers might have been frowned a little following the anticlimax and asked themselves: was the woman really a fool?

Cast of Characters:

  1. The Nemean Lion:

Miss Amy Carnaby ( the dog sitter for Lady Hoggin’s), Emily Carnaby (Amy’s sister), Sir Joseph Hoggin (the client, husband of Lady Hoggin), George (the “Hermes”), Lady Hoggin (the owner of a Pekinese dog), Mrs. Marte (the manageress of a hotel at Bloomsbury). Mrs. Samuelson (the other owner of a Pekinese)

2. The Lernean Hydra:

Dr. Alan Garcia (Home Office Analyst), Beatrice King (one of the Hydra heads – the former maid at Dr. Oldfied’s house), Dr. Charles Oldfield (the client), George (the “Hermes”), Jean Moncriffe (worked for the doctor as his dispenser), Nurse Harrison (the former nurse for the late Mrs. Oldfield), Miss Leatheran (one of the Hydra heads).

3. The Arcadian Deer:

Count Alexis Pavlovitch (the proprietor of the Samovar Restaurant in Paris), Ambrose Vandel (a ballet correographer), Sir George Sanderfield (the owner of Grasslawn), Katrina Samoushenka (the Russian  ballerina),Marie Hellin (Ms. Samoushenka’s maid), Nita Valetta (the missing Italian maid of Ms. Samoushenka before Ms. Hellin), Ted Williamson (the client).

4. The Erymanthian Boar:

Gustave (the waiter at Rochers Neiges Hotel), Dr. Karl Klutz (one of the hotel guests from Vienna), Inspector Drouet (the Swiss police), Madame Grandier (one of the hotel guests – a widow), Lementeuil (the client; the Swiss Commisaire Police), Mr. Schwartz (American tourist – one of the hotel guests), The three horsy men (hotel guests- the criminal’s bodyguards)

5. The Augean Stables:

Edward Ferrier (the Prime Minister, Everitt Dashwood (a journalist at The Branch), Dagmar Ferrier’s husband), Dagmar Ferrier (the daughter of John Lammet, her husband’s predecessor), Sir George Conway (the client-Home Secretary), Dr. Henderson (a court witness, the Bishop of Northumbria), Percy Perry (Editor of X-Ray News), Thelma Andersen (a Danish actress).

6. The Stymphalean Birds:

Mrs. Elsie Clayton (Mrs. Rice’s daughter), Harold Waring (the client, a promising young politician), Philip Clayton (Elsie’s husband), Mrs. Rice

7. The Cretan Bull:

Admiral Chandler (Hugh’s father),Diana Maberly (the client), Colonel George Frosbier (the Chandlers’ family friend),Hugh Chandler (Miss Maberly’s ex-fiance)

8. The Horses of Diomedes:

Beryl Larkin (a local woman), Lady Carmichael (where Poirot stayed over at Mertonshire), General Grant (Sheila’s father), Dr. Michael Stoddart (the client), Pam Grant (one of the “horses”- Sheila’s sister), Sheila Grant (one of the “horses”- Pam’s sister).

9. The Girdle of Hyppolita:

Alexander Simpson (the client- an art dealer), Detective Inspector Hearn, Chief Inspector Japp (of Scotland Yard; Poirot’s old friend), Lavinia Pope (the owner of a girls’ education at Neuilly, France).

10. The Flock of Geryon:

Miss Amy Carnaby (the client to whom Poirot encountered in the The Nemean Lion Case), Chief Inspector Japp

11. The Apples of Hesperides:

Atlas (Poirot’s aid), Emery Power (the client – an art collector), George (the “Hermes”), Inspector Wagstaffe, The Mother Superior at the Convent of St. Mary and All Angels

12. The Capture of Ceberus

Dr. Alice Cunningham (a psychologist, the Countess Vera’s son’s fiancée), Mr. Higgs (a dog whisperer), Chief Inspector Japp, Professor Liskeard (a frequent visitor in Hell Club), Countess Vera Rossakoff (the client- ran Hell Club).

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