Monday, November 02, 2009

The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie

Readers who see shelves filled with Agatha Christie mystery novels may not realize that she also wrote 157 short stories. Most were published first in newspapers or magazines and then republished in story collections. In the appendix of The Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie, biographer Richard Hack includes a complete list of these stories and identifies the collections in which readers may find them.

I just finished the light and entertaining collection The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie, which features the astute and impeccably dressed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. In this collection first published in 1948, Poirot is thinking of retiring and has decided to take only twelve more cases. To make things more interesting, he has decided the cases must somehow reflect the twelve labors of the Greek hero Hercules. He applies his little gray cells to solve unusual mysteries, most of which do not involve murder. Once he sees the truth of each matter, he moves quickly to broker settlements, often without calling in the police.

Though the stories take the reader around the globe, they mostly address the English way of life. Take the following paragraph as an example:

For John Hammett was particularly dear to the people and Press of England. He represented every quality which was dear to Englishmen. People said of him: "One does feel that Hammett's honest." Anecdotes were told of his simple home life, of his fondness for gardening. Corresponding to Baldwin's pipe and Chamberlain's umbrella, there was Hammett's raincoat. He always carried it - a weather-worn garment. It stood as a symbol - of the English climate, of the prudent forethought of the English race, of their attachment to old possessions. Moreover, in his bluff British way, John Hammett was an orator. His speeches, quietly and earnestly delivered, contained those simple sentimental cliches which are so deeply rooted in the English heart. Foreigners sometimes criticize them as being both hypocritical and unbearably noble. John Hammett did not mind in the least being noble - in a sporting, public school, deprecating fashion.

Of course, the former prime minister thus described proves to be a crook. Nothing is really simple in Agatha Christie mysteries.

Many of the British television adaptations of Christie mysteries are drawn from the short stories. Readers shouldn't forget them.

Christie, Agatha. The Labours of Hercules. Dodd, Mead & Company, 1967. No ISBN.

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