Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Labors of Hercules: Review

In the Labors of Hercules (1947), Hercule Poirot is visited by his friend Dr. Burton who winds up remarking upon Poirot's unusual given name and is aghast when he finds that the detective has never read the classical stories about Hercules. When the talk moves on to Poirot's intended retirement, a comparison comes up between him and the twelve labors of Hercules. Poirot is interested and has Miss Lemon get him books on the classic hero. At first he is appalled by this hero--"Take this Hercules--this hero, Hero indeed! What was he but a large muscular creature of low intelligence and criminal tendencies!...No, Poirot shook his head, if that was the Greeks' idea of a hero, then measured by modern standards it certainly would not do." He is dismayed by Hercules lack of order, lack of method. But then the order and method of fulfilling his own twelve labors begins to appeal to him and he sets off on his own heroic journey. {Synopsis of his twelve tasks below.}

This was a fun collection of stories and built very nicely upon the twelve labors conceit. The only unfortunate part is that in order to fulfill his tasks, Poirot had to travel a bit more than usual, but all things considered it is impressive how many of the stories did manage to stay close to home for our detective. As a bonus for me, I got to read this in the pictured volume--one of my little pocket-size editions. ★★★★

"The Nemean Lion": Miss Lemon points Poirot to his first Herculean task. Is a missing Pekingese dog really a labor worthy of a classical hero? Poirot is ready to say no...but there is something that intrigues him about the request.

"The Lyrnaean Hydra": Poirot must defeat the many-headed hydra of village gossip--before it destroys the reputation of Dr. Oldfield.

"The Arcadian Deer": Poirot is called upon to trace a beautiful young woman who disappeared like a deer in a forest.

"The Erymanthian Boar": Planning to take a short break after his last task, Poirot is asked by an old friend to help capture a Parisian gangster who is rumored to be headed to a remote Swiss hotel.

"The Augean Stables": Poirot uses a river of scandal to divert attention from a more serious scandal that threatens the British Prime Minister.

"The Stymphalean Birds": Poirot saves a trusting young man from the clutches of a couple of harpies.

"The Cretan Bull": A young man breaks off his engagement...claiming that he must because of the insanity that runs in his family. The young woman asks Poirot to prove that her beloved doesn't have anything to worry about. But Poirot finds out that isn't precisely true....

"The Horses of Diomedes": Poirot is asked to investigate who is encouraging a young woman to become part of the cocaine party scene...the answer is quite surprising.

"The Girdle of Hyppolita": What do a missing painting and a missing schoolgirl have to do with one another? Papa Poirot knows.

"The Flock of Geryon": Miss Carnaby (from the first story) comes to Poirot out of concern for her friend--who has gotten herself  mixed up with a cult. Poirot depends on Miss Carnaby's courage to bring the con man...and possible murderer to justice. But what if Miss Carnaby succumbs to the Master's message?

"The Apples of Hesperides": A rich collector asks Poirot to discover what happened to his emerald apple-encrusted goblet...a goblet he won at auction but never actually possessed. It's been missing for ten years, can Poirot follow such a cold trail? Mais oui!

"The Capture of Cerberus": Poirot meets an old acquaintance, the Countess Vera Rossakoff, quite by chance in the underground and manages to find her in "Hell." No...not there. At her nightclub with the devilish name--guarded by the dog Cerberus himself. It isn't long before Poirot discovers that there are quite devilish things going on--jewelry being stolen and drug-dealing. The Countess has been involved with jewels before, but has his charming old friend stooped to dope-dealing. Inspector Japp thinks so...but Poirot doesn't believe it.

This fulfills the "Short Story Collection" square and gives me Bingos #9 & #10 on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

The classics aren't a ladder leading to quick success, like a modern correspondence course! It's not a man's working hours that are important--it's his leisure hours. That's the mistake we all make. (Dr. Burton; p. 6)

[about Poirot's intended retirement hobby--raising vegetable marrows]
But seriously Poirot, what a hobby! Compare that to--his voice sank to an appreciative purr--an easy chair in front of a wood fire in a long low room lined with books--must be a long room--not a square one. Books all round one. A glass of port--and a book open in your hand. Time rolls back as you read. (Dr. Burton; p.7)

DCO: I don't know how to fight this--this vile network of lies and suspicion. How can you refute what is never said openly to your face? I am powerless--trapped--and slowly mercilessly being destroyed,
HP: Yes. Rumor is indeed the nine-headed Hydra of Lernea which cannot be exterminated because as fast as one head is cropped off two grow in its place.
~Dr. Charles Oldfield; Hercule Poirot
"The Lernean Hydra" (p. 36)

The man obviously wanted to tell him something--and as obviously had lost the art of simple narration. Words had become to him a means of obscuring facts--not of revealing them. He was an adept in the art of the useful phrase--that is to say, the phrase that falls soothingly on the ear and is quite empty of meaning. ~"The Augean Stables" (p. 97)

You might start a new religion yourself with the creed: There is no one so clever as Hercule Poirot, Amen, D.C. Repeat ad lib! 
~Inspector Japp
"The Flock of Geryon" (p. 200)


fredamans said...

I like shorts, and this one sounds cool. Thanks for breaking down each one, it really gave me insight into each story.
Great review!

Anonymous said...

Bev, I'm glad you liked the stories (and a great review, by the way). I think this collection overall is probably the best single collection of Poirot shorts, because of the Herculean theme which is so cleverly carried through the book. I agree with your four star rating!

Bev Hankins said...

Thanks, Les. I read these about 25 years ago (or more), but didn't really remember anything about them. They were very good!

Katherine P said...

Great review! Agatha definitely excels at short stories. This is one of my favorite collections.