Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from The Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie


The Labors of Hercules is a short story collection written by Agatha Christie and first published in 1947. The stories all feature Hercule Poirot; each story has some connection to the twelve Labors of Hercules. Poirot has decided that he will end his career with these cases and then retire (to cultivate marrows in his garden). There is a short introduction to the stories which explains how Poirot came upon this idea.

I wanted to read this collection of short stories before we watch the corresponding TV episode in Agatha Christie's Poirot. Monday I started reading the book but I have only read the first four stories so far. They were mostly very good.

"The Nemean Lion"

The very first story was my favorite of the four. Miss Lemon, Poirot's secretary, has a small part in the story. 

Sir Joseph Hoggin requests that Poirot look into the theft of his wife's Pekinese. The dog has been returned, but they had to pay money to get the dog back. He wants the culprit found and his money returned. This story was a lot of fun and the characters were very interesting. A wonderful and very unusual ending.

"The Lernean Hydra"

A physician who has a practice in a small village wants Poirot to clear his name. Village gossip is that the doctor is responsible for his wife's death, and his practice is suffering. George, Poirot's valet, is enlisted to help with the investigation. I found this one to be the least interesting. It was a pretty standard story with no surprises. 

"The Arcadian Deer"

When Poirot's chauffeur-driven car breaks down in an English village, Poirot is unhappy to have to spend the night in the village. The mechanic, Ted Williamson who is working on his car asks Poirot to find a missing girl that he met a few weeks earlier. Ted had met the maid of a famous Russian ballerina who was staying at Grasslawn, the home of Sir George Sanderfield; they arranged to meet again, but she never showed up, and he had been unsuccessful at locating her. Ted has little money but his case interests Poirot so he looks into it. 

This case takes Poirot to Pisa in Italy and then to Switzerland, where the ballerina was staying. How Poirot finds the missing girl is interesting. The ending is very sentimental and I loved that.

"The Erymanthian Boar"

After ending up in Switzerland in the last story, Poirot decides to stay there and visit some locations he has never seen before. This leads to a ride on a funicular up into the Swiss Alps. Poirot is passed a note by the conductor while on the trip up. The note is from  Lementeuil, a Swiss policeman that Poirot knows. It asks Poirot to help in apprehending a dangerous killer who will be at the hotel where Poirot will be staying. This is a very complicated story; the funicular is damaged and no one can leave the hotel. This is a thriller with mistaken identities. I found it confusing but still a fun read. 

So those are my thoughts on the four stories so far, and I hope it doesn't take long for me to finish reading the book, so I can watch the adaptation. I have watched it before but I can't remember much about it.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I think it is hard to pull off a whodunnit kind of short story. The best ones for me are character driven and don't feature someone trying to solve a crime. Especially Christie who always relied on a large cast of characters. I keep meaning to watch the POIROT's based on short stories. I have only watched the ones based on novels.

Cath said...

I read this collection several years ago and, if memory serves, really enjoyed it. I thought the premise behind the whole thing rather clever.

Margot Kinberg said...

I liked a lot of these stories, too, Tracy. I think you're right that some of them are better than others. But Christie really was effective at writing short stories, I think.

TracyK said...

Patti, to a certain extent I agree with you, the short story form doesn't work as well for puzzle mysteries, so there are a higher percentage of stories I don't like in collections like that. Generally the ones I do like have interesting characters or some other additional attraction. However, I have grown very fond of Hercule Poirot so that makes up for other flaws. Unfortunately these stories don't have Hastings at all, and I love reading about him.

When I watched the Poirot TV series, I was surprised to see that the first two seasons were primarily short stories. That worked well for me because I would not watch the adapted novels if I had not read the book first. And I did not realize until later that only a few of the books and short stories have Miss Lemon in them.

TracyK said...

Cath, I thought of you when I was reading these stories because you have talked about liking myths (and retellings?) on your blog. I know very little about mythology, my son has read much more in that area that I have. So the Labors of Hercules are new to me.

I did find your review of this book. You noted that you especially liked the humor in the books, and that is the thing I like about Christie's stories.

TracyK said...

Margot, I am really just getting started reading Christie's short stories. I have read a few Poirot stories, a few Miss Marple stories, some of the Mr. Quin stories, and Partners in Crime, the Tommy and Tuppence stories. I did not really care for Partners in Crime, but I mostly like the other short stories I have read more recently.

Next I want to try the Parker Pyne stories.

Rick Robinson said...

I like this collection a lot and have read it two or three times.

You say “I would not watch the adapted novels if I had not read the book first.” Why?

TracyK said...

Rick, I wish I had a copy of this book with larger print, this one I have is pretty hard to read. I had planned on waiting to buy a trade paperback and read it later, but changed my mind. If I decide to reread them, I definitely will find a better copy to read.

I usually choose to read books before watching an adaptation, in general. I just prefer that. But in the case of the Hercule Poirot novels, the David Suchet adaptations always have the ending (or very similar) as the book, no matter how much they change the rest of the story, and I didn't want the solution spoiled for me. There are three or four of the novels that I did not care that much about reading and I went ahead and watched the adaptations.

Rick Robinson said...

Ah. I have a hardcover of all the Poirot short stories. I like them!

TracyK said...

Rick, I have a trade paperback edition of all the Poirot stories, and I plan to read all of them. It will take a while, but that is fine.

TracyK said...

And I just realized that the Labors of Hercules stories are in that book so I don't need to buy another copy. That is good.

George said...

I read this collection back in the 1960s and it Wowed me! I thought Christie was clever to fashion a series of mysteries based on the Labors of Hercules. If I run across a Large Print edition at a Library Sale, I'll send it to you.

TracyK said...

George, I read a lot of Agatha Christie books when I was younger and I don't remember which ones. I think maybe I read more Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence then.

This is a clever collection of stories, from what I have seen so far. I don't know why but I never run into large print editions at sales. That would be very kind of you.

Sam said...

I'm curious as to whether the television adaptations do justice to the written stories. Any thoughts?

TracyK said...

Sam, that is a good question. I have different answers for the short story adaptations and the novels, although I enjoyed all of them. And we have watched all of them, most of them twice.

For the novels, I think the adaptations are very good, and the solution to the crime is always true to the book. In some cases, such as where Poirot does not show up until 1/2 or 2/3 through the novel, the story is rewritten to have him there from the beginning. In some cases, characters are changed or combined. I did not find any that had changes that bothered me much. One very minor thing that irritated me was that in later adaptations, Poirot is portrayed as more religious than I remember in the books.

I haven't read a lot of the short stories, but I think a lot of the adaptations added a secondary plot or extended the main plot to make them more interesting. But since Hastings is in most of those, I enjoyed them a lot.

Another thing is that Miss Lemon, the secretary, is not in that many Poirot short stories or novels, nor is Inspector Japp, but they are in a good number of the early adaptions. I love those characters in the adaptations too, so that did not bother me.

Rick Robinson said...

The productions with Suchet are all uniformly excellent.

TracyK said...

I agree, Rick, he is the perfect Poirot and the sets seem perfect to me. Just gorgeous.