This is my second ever Agatha Christie book that I’ve read after The Moving Finger. The Moving Finger is a Miss Marple novel but the novel I’m about to review, The Labours of Hercules is a Hercule Poirot novel.
Now I’ve seen the TV programmes with Miss Marple but never really those with Poirot in. My parents were quick to tell me their dislike of Poirot in the TV series. Whilst I enjoyed the Miss Marple TV series, the same cannot be said for the book which I wouldn’t be in a rush to read again. However, I would definitely read The Labours of Hercules again.
The background for this story is this:
Poirot is looking to retire and grow superior marrows. However, he has one last idea which appeals to his vanity and and wants to undertake prior to his retirement. This idea? A modern ‘Labours of Hercules.’ 12 carefully chosen cases, each of which will resemble the remarkable feats of the first Hercules of Ancient Greece.
“Was there, here, something that he had missed? Some richness of the spirit? Sadness crept over him. Yes, he should have become acquainted with the Classics…Long ago…”
For those unfamiliar with Ancient Greek history, here’s a summary of the original Labours of Hercules:
After being driven mad by Hera, Hercules killed his wife and children. Once his sanity had been recovered he regretted his decisions and was purified by King Thespius. He then traveled to Delphi and enquired how he could atone for his actions. Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, advised him to go to Tiryns and serve his cousin King Eurystheus for twelve years, performing whatever labors Eurystheus might set him; in return, he would be rewarded with immortality; and so the 12 Labours of Hercules was born.
Back to the book review, and Poirot’s 12 Labours are based on the same as those of Hercules in Ancient Greece.
1) The Neman Lion –
“It’s from a man who wants you to investigate the disappearance of his wife’s Pekinese dog.”
Poirot’s first labour seemed so unimportant that it was necessary for him to investigate. Poirot follows the case of the disappearance of a Pekinese dog who, since having disappeared, a ransom has been demanded for his safe return. If the ransom is not paid, bits of the little fluffy dog will be posted back to the owner.
Can Poirot find the dog-napper?
“…Pekinese were lions once. And they still have the hearts of lions!”
2) The Lernean Hydra –
“Just a little over a year ago, my wife died…everyone is saying, that I killed her – that I poisoned her!”
Poirot investigates the case of rumour spreading about a Doctor who has been accused of poisoning his wife. But not all is as it seems and Poirot must dig to find the truth in amongst the lies.
“It is like in the old legend of the Lernean Hydra. Every time a head was cut off, two heads grew in its place. So, to begin with, the rumours grew and multiplied. But you see my task, like that of my namesake Hercules, was to reach the first – the original head.”
3) The Arcadian Deer –
“Hair like wings of gold. Yes, I think this is the third Labour of Hercules…If I remember rightly, that happened in Arcady…”
This is more of a missing person’s and mistaken identities for Poirot. At the request of a young man, Poirot is tasked with tracking down a young lady who caught the young man’s affections. This task takes him from London to Italy but will he find the answers he seeks?
“Was it the stirring of spring that made him feel so rebelliously disinclined to accept this final verdict? Or was it something else? Something stirring at the back of his brain – words – a phrase – a name? Did not the whole thing finish too neatly – dovetail too obviously?”
4) The Erymanthian Boar
“He is not a man – he is a wild boar – one of the most dangerous killers alive today.”
Perhaps one of the most dangerous cases Poirot undertakes in this book is that of Marrascaud, a murder that police forces all over Europe are looking for him/her. With the help of Poirot, will Marrascaud finally be brought to justice?
“To capture alive the wild boar of Erymanthea…”
5) The Augean Stables
This next labour is more accurate for modern times. Poirot must hunt down the culprit for publishing false stories regarding a well known and well respected politician.
“But these damned lies have got to be stopped.”
“Are you sure they are lies?”
6) The Stymphalaen Birds
“They are like birds – …birds of ill omen.”
Two women, wearing hooded cloaks, who seemed to stare into your soul. These are the subject of Poirot’s next case. A lovely young lady who was in the midst of a terrible relationship and her mother had met a young gentleman by the name of Harold. How does blackmail feature and who are these two old ladies?
7) The Cretan Bull –
Next up, a young woman to be married approaches Poirot because her husband to be has called of their engagement because he fears he is mad. Poirot must figure out what it means to be mad and if this man is. really and truly mad or is there a family secret waiting to be uncovered.
“Presently, they heard a shot…”
8) The Horses of Diomedes
A lady by the name of Patience Grace, keen to leave her husband, accidentally shot an innocent bystander and cocaine was found in the vicinity. What’s really going on there? Poirot finds out…
“The horses, Madame, are symbolic. They were the wild horses who ate human flesh.”
9) The Girdle of Hyppolita –
One thing leads to another and so Poirot’s 9th case was to investigate the case of the stolen Rubens.
“The Girdle of Hyppolita. Hyppolita gives her girdle to Hercules – painted by Rubens…”
10) The Flock of Geryon
We revisit Miss Carnaby from the first labour in this, the 10th. The Great Flock is a community within the church, a community where women are dying. Can an undercover Miss Carnaby and Poirot solve the case before another woman mysteriously dies?
11) The Apples of Hesperides
A recovery for another work of art now for Poirot’s penultimate labour. The goblet used by Pope Alexander VI.
“He sometimes presented it to a favoured guest to drink from. That guest, M. Poirot, usually died.”
Now Poirot has to find where it is and where it’s rightful place should be.
12) The Capture of Cerberus –
For Poirot’s final labour he must investigate a friend of his, for her club is under intense scrutiny. Jewels are going missing and there’s talks of a drug ring being conducted there.
Can Poirot sniff out the truth? Or will the jewels be gone forever?
“Have I not performed the twelfth Labour of Hercules and brought Cerberus up from Hell to prove my case?”
Please find the Amazon link for The Labours of Hercules below:
Thank you everyone for reading!