The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie is a collection of 12 short stories. You can also term these short stories as 12 mini-mysteries. These mini-mysteries feature Hercule Poirot (the Belgian detective). As the title of the book suggests, these stories relate to the mythological stories of powerful demi-god – Hercules. However, the connection is indirect and not the direct one. Hercule Poirot, on the very edge of retirement, decides to take twelve last cases which will relate to the twelve works of Hercules. These cases, according to Poirot, will not only mirror the labours of original Hercules but also prove his own superiority. After these cases, Poirot plans to retire and settle down to cultivate vegetable marrows.
Not all the stories in this book deal with the murder. On the other hand, we find interesting cases like the mystery of a stolen dog, finding a missing young lady, case of jewelry theft, and drug dealing, etc. Some of these stories are good and some are ok. I especially liked the case of stolen dog. Watson does not feature in any of these stories and readers get a chance to observe the character of Poirot more closely. The character of Poirot is entertaining enough to make you laugh.
The ways in which Christie linked the mythology of Hercules to Poirot’s cases were quite clever. While the incorporation of Herculean mythology was comically exaggerated imitation in some cases, it was very subtle sometimes. You will definitely enjoy this book more if you know about the actual labours of Hercules. Additionally, these stories exhibit an astonishing variety of theme and setting, mood and tone, and characters and personalities. These stories also show that Christie can both tell a short racy mysterious tale and probe into human psychology. However, compared to a full-fledged Poirot novel, short stories of this book fall flat on various levels. For example, predictability of some of the mystery cases covered in this book is one of the weaknesses of this book. The conclusion in these predictable cases is too obvious to see. Likewise, the novels of Christie are known for their surprising elements and such elements are certainly missing here. Not even a single story brings you at the edge of your seats. The reason for these may be the nature and limitations of short story telling. The limited space probably did not allow the author to develop the plot further or add the twists in the tales.
While the idea behind the concept of The Labours of Hercules was brilliant, the execution was certainly below par. Nonetheless, despite some weaknesses, the book under review shows Christie’s contribution to the genre of short stories. As for her narrative techniques, we all know that she was a brilliant story-teller, gifted with an unerring sense of situation and with an ability to visualize a scene clearly. Overall, the stories in this book are enjoyable enough to happily overlook faults like predictability and lack of surprising elements. This book, in fact, is worth spending some evenings with.