Saturday, February 25, 2023

Agatha Christie - The Labors of Hercules

First published in book form in 1947, The Labours of Hercules comprises an even dozen mysteries starring Christie's most popular sleuth, the ever-dignified Hercule Poirot. The introductory chapter of the collection sets up the rest of the book. At a dinner party, another guest compares the labors of Poirot to those of Hercules, and the little Belgian is not amused. He has already decided to retire, but makes up his mind to take on 12 great cases - each somehow reflecting the labors accomplished by Hercules - as a farewell to crime solving. All of the cases are quite different from each other, from searching for a lost poet to hunting down a particularly ferocious murderer, from solving mysterious deaths of religious cult members to saving a young would-be politician from potential blackmailers.

Comment: By now I've watched all the episodes of the series based on the Hercule Poirot books, featuring David Suchet, which I think were quite well done (except one adaptation, which disappointed me because it was too different from the original, Cards on the Table), but I still have the episode based on The Labours of Hercules to watch and I have faithfully waited to read the book before watching. Now, I've finally managed to read the book.

This is a book with a collection of short stories, all linked by the theme of the labors of Hercules, so famous from the Greek texts and myths. Poirot is looking for to retirement and after a conversation with someone he decides that emulating the semi-god Hercules in his apparently impossible tasks will be a good way to start his exist from investigating crimes. 

There are, obviously, twelve stories, all seem to have some sort of connection to their titles, and one or two even have one or two details connecting them. I liked the book as a whole and I felt all stories were quite good, meaning that I liked reading them all and I agree why many consider them to be some of the best collections featuring Poirot.

In order these are the stories:

The Nemean Lion
Poirot investigates the theft of a Pekinese dog that belongs to a rich woman. The owner's assistant reported the theft, and someone demanded money to deliver the dig safely again.

The Lernean Hydra
A local GP's wife was murdered and now the blame seems to fall on the husband and his young assistant. But how did the rumors begin..?

The Arcadian Deer
Due to a random circumstance, Poirot meets a poor mechanic who asks his help. He met a maid once and she simply vanished. Poirot races all over Europe to solve the case... 

The Erymanthian Boar
On holiday Poirot is convinced to help finding where a criminal might be hiding and he does indeed, althpugh he is trapped in a mountain with several suspects.

The Augean Stables
Poirot is called in by the Government to clear the name of a retired Prime Minister and he has the help of someone who is very interested in solving this case.

The Stymphalean Birds
On holiday, Poirot meets an Englishman who doesn't know what to do when the ladies he had befriended are caught in a terrible murder case, and two terrifying looking sisters seem to be blackmailing them.

The Cretan Bull
A young woman asks Poirot's help when her fiance calls off the engagement because he thinks he is going mad. What Poirot discovers is that the truth is much deeper than what someone could think.

The Horses of Diomedes
A doctor who is a friend of Poirot asks his help to save a young woman from the drug dealers and the bad company she is friends with. When interviewing the girl's father, Poirot discovers the truth.

The Girdle of Hyppolita
Poirot helps a family when their daughter is found missing from the train which would take her to a school abroad. She is rescued later on without any clue on where she had been, but the truth is easy for Poirot to find...

The Flock of Geryon
The lady's assistant from the first story is back and asks Poirot for advice on how to help a friend who seems to be caught in a cult-like retreat. They devise an ingenious plan...

The Apples of Hesperides
A rich man asks Poirot to find a valuable missing chalice that belongs to him and this requires a lot of investigation but Poirot finally guesses where it might be.

The Capture of Cerberus
Countess Rossakoff is back, seems to be partner at a respectable club but there are rumors about drugs and jewel robberies there. With her past, is she guilty of this too?

All the stories were good in general. Probably, the ones I found less appealing, both in case and in the resolution Poirot presents, were the 5th and the 12th. All the others were more about the ingenious twists in how Poirot finds out the truth - as we would expect from a Poirot investigation - than the actual cases, which aren't that complex, at least not comparing to some of the full length stories which include many more red herrings and sometimes even some coincidence.

Since these are short stories, we don't have much time to guess and I should say I kind of knew who the culprits were or where the twist might in regards to three or four stories - not that much to go on - but often when it comes to mystery novels, it's not discovering the criminal/villain that matters or that challenges the reader, but the how.
The way some these little mysteries were solved was very well done, and ultimately, that is why I really liked this book as a whole.
Grade: 8/10

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