Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie

short story: The Capture of Cerberus 

collection first published in 1947





The room was not a big one. It was dotted with little tables, a space of dancing floor in the middle. It was lighted with small red lamps, there were frescoes on the walls, and at the far end was a vast grill at which officiated chefs dressed as devils with tails and horns. 

All this Poirot took in before, with all the impulsiveness of her Russian nature, Countess Vera Rossakoff, resplendent in scarlet evening dress, bore down upon him with outstretched hands.

“Ah you have come! My dear – my very dear friend! What a joy to see you again! After such years – so many – how many? – No, we will not say how many! To me it seems but as yesterday. You have not changed – not in the least have you changed!”


observations: The end is coming for Poirot: the remaining few stories about him are being televised now on British TV, with David Suchet having played the role in every one since 1989. The latest one - it went out last night – is The Labours of Hercules, a collection of 12 stories connected by a conceit that Poirot is recreating the classical tasks of his near-namesake – finding day-to-day problems that can be twisted to match the allusions. Beforehand, the mind slightly boggled at how the producers were going to turn it into a coherent 2-hour drama, and the answer is, in a very confused and exotic manner, occasionally clanging into the original book, but mostly careering off through the snow…. 

The last story in the book concerns a nightclub called Hell, with some very well-imagined décor - the TV people took only elements of this story, missing out on what could have been a marvellous set:

On each step [of the stairs down to the club] a phrase was written. The first one ran:

I meant well…”

The second:

Wipe the slate clean and start afresh…”

The third:

I can give it up any time I like…”

“The good intentions that pave the way to Hell” Hercule Poirot murmured appreciatively.

The club is owned by Countess Vera Rossakoff (leftover from The Big Four, which really is the worst Poirot book) who is a rather surprising Irene Adler to Poirot: The Woman, the only one that he ever shows any real human interest in, and one who gives him as good as she gets. When Poirot suggests that it is expensive to come to her club, she replies “Are we not told that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Naturally, then, he should have priority in Hell.”

The plot involves drugs in a rather modern manner – as does one of the other stories, along with a couple where drugs are used as mind-altering substances. All very modern, and in one story – The Augean Stables – there is a fascinating look at the workings of the press: the story is a complete farrago, but the assumptions and thinking behind it are worth a moment’s thought.

In the story The Cretan Bull, Poirot looks at a portrait – ‘A woman with auburn hair and an expression of radiant vitality’ – and his host says it is by Orpen - a rare mention by Christie of a modern artist. It sounds something like this picture by Sir William Orpen, used on the blog to illustrate Henry James’s Wings of the Dove:






--- and the woman in scarlet above is Orpen’s portrait of Madame Errazuriz. Both pictures are from the Athenaeum website.

14 comments:

  1. Underrated book - when was it written? Countess Vera Rosakoff first appears in an early short story, and yes The Big Four is terrible.

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    1. I re-read it because it was coming on, and was very impressed in fact, full of good things and interesting clothes, non-anachronism and modern concerns! I don't know when the individual stories were first published, you'd think she'd write them over a short period of time and then collect into a book, but I think that's not the case. I must try and find out! -there must be a detailed website somewhere....

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  2. I won't be acquiring this TBH, I think someone pressed record button last night. Internal debate taking place with self, over whether to watch or keep head in book, probably latter I think.

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    1. I enjoyed last night's one, though not as much as last week's, and in order to turn a set of disparate short stories into one drama they did have to go a bit OTT....

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  3. I didn't really know Orpen until last week but that top pic is pretty wonderful.
    Did you see this story about his portrait of The Bolter? http://artdaily.com/news/65916/Sotheby-s-London-to-offer-Sir-William-Orpen-s-Portrait-of-Lady-Idina-Wallace#.Unvqlij1TCF

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    1. I wasn't aware of him till recently, but his portraits are terrific. And that picture of Lady Idina - amazing, totally fabulous. If I had a couple of million to spare....

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  4. I went and had a good old browse on the Atheneum site you linked to so thank you for that.

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  5. Moira - I do like the original stories, and I've always liked the Countess Vera Rossakoff. I'm glad they're doing this for television but I have to be a fussy old purist and say I wish they stuck better to the original stories. *sigh*. Anyway you've shown some lovely 'photos here. Just love that scarlet dress! So elegant

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    1. I know - isn't she gorgeous? There's a faint implication in the book that the Countess is past her best, but I decided to ignore that!

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  6. Even if the content of the post were not interesting, the pictures are just stunning. I am intrigued with the idea of the short stories and will be interested to hear what you find about when the individual stories were written. The TV adaptation doesn't sound like my type of thing and I have many other Poirot adaptations to choose from.

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    1. Much as I enjoyed re-reading the book, and I was happy enough to sit and watch this for two hours, I wouldn't say the TV adaptation was one of the best - many of the others were much better so you are right to stick with them!

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  7. Mark Gatiss's screenplay for The Big Four was ludicrous..These adaptations really are absurd

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    1. It seemed a shame to throw so much money at an adaptation that really wasn't worth it - the production values were very high - especially as the original book isn't that good either.

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