I recognize that it’s grossly unfair to judge a body of work (here, Agatha Christie’s The Labors of Hercules, a Poirot book) that is slightly out of a long-standing series, especially when I haven’t read the other works in said series. So more than a straight review, this is a quick list of things I found hilarious and/or annoying. The book itself is a dozen cases of self-imposed “labors” for famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, based on the myths of his namesake, leading up to Poirot’s “retirement” (I don’t believe he actually retired after this). Spoilers, kinda, to follow…
Poirot’s (admittedly product-of-his-time) douchiness really comes to a head in the twelfth chapter/case/labor, The Capture of Cerberus, where he meets up with old friend Countess Vera Rossakoff, a flamboyant Russian lady who is getting on in years but is an enthusiastic business owner of a club called Hell. Her commitment to highly flashy femininity is hitting all of Poirot’s buttons. The chapter itself starts out with Hercule lamenting the abundance of lady-knitters on public transit, which escalates quickly into him slamming on the modern (well, for him, modern) women in general:
What was this passion that attacked women for knitting under the most unpropitious conditions? A woman did not look her best knitting; the absorption, the glassy eyes, the restless, busy fingers! One needed the agility of a wild cat, and the willpower of a Napoleon to manage to knit in a crowded tube, but women managed it!
. . .
No repose, thought Poirot, no feminine grace! His elderly soul revolted from the stress and hurry of the modern world. All these young women who surrounded him- so alike, so devoid of charm, so lacking in rich, alluring femininity! He demanded a more flamboyant appeal. Ah! to see a femme du monde, chic, sympathetic, spirituelle– a woman with ample curves, a woman ridiculously and extravagantly dressed!
Remember, ladies, public transit is merely a fashion show, don’t try to get anything done with that time spent commuting, and if you do, make sure that it does not make you any less appealing to random dudes. And let’s be honest, Poirot can easily afford to not take the tube, so I can assume he is only doing this merely to be a judgmental ass.
Later, he’s hanging out at Hell, chatting with Alice Cunningham, the girl who is set to marry the Countess’s son. She’s a psychologist, and as such, does not have time to dress herself to Poirot’s liking, apparently. She psychoanalyzes the Countess in Hercule’s presence, and he starts freaking out that she’s going to turn that professional eye on him next, so he counters by busting out this observation:
“Do you know what I find astonishing? . . . It amazes me that you– who are young, and who could look pretty if you took the trouble- well, it amazes me that you do not take the trouble! You wear the heavy coat and skirt with the big pockets as though you were going to play the game of golf. But it is not here the golf links, that it is the underground cellar with the temperature of 71 Fahrenheit, and your nose it is hot and shines, but you do not powder it, and the lipstick you put it on your mouth without interest, without emphasizing the curve of the lips! You are a woman, but you do not draw attention to the fact of being a woman. And I say to you ‘Why not?’ It is a pity!”
Always on the offensive, I see. And there is nothing that a woman likes more than a man telling her how she is being a woman incorrectly. Alice Cunningham points out that it’s the fundamentals that matter, not the trappings, but unfortunately, that point is lost when it turns out that she was the one secretly using the club as a drug front, and smuggling drugs in the mouth of the Countess’s large, and aptly and unsubtly named Cerberus. Poirot reveals:
“From the first I did not like that young lady with her scientific jargon and her coat and skirt with the big pockets. Yes, pockets. Unnatural that any woman should be so disdainful of her appearance!”
Essentially, ‘I knew she was the criminal, because she was wearing pockets.’ By that definition, all of the women I know are drug smugglers, and my entire life is an elaborate crime ring. Screw you, Hercule Poirot, you arrogant, mustachioed poopface.
Let’s close on a slightly more amusing note, though it also does kind of reinforce the idea that Hercule Poirot does not know how to handle women on any level, regardless of age. He solves a mystery for a girls’ school, and as he leaves the premises, becomes swarmed by everyone’s worst nightmare, teenage girls.
It was just as Poirot was leaving the house that the onslaught took place. He was surrounded, hemmed-in, overwhelmed by a crowd of girls, thick, thin, dark and fair.
“Mon Dieu!” he murmured. “Here indeed is the attack by the Amazons!”
. . .
They surged closer. Hercule Poirot was surrounded. He disappeared in a wave of young, vigorous femininity.
Twenty-five voices arose, pitched in various keys but all uttering the same momentous phrase.
“M. Poirot, will you write your name in my autograph book…?”