Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories
Foreword: Who Is Hercule Poirot?
1 The Affair at the Victory Ball
2 The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan
3 The King of Clubs
4 The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim
5 The Plymouth Express
6 The Adventure of “The Western Star”
7 The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor
8 The Kidnapped Prime Minister
9 The Million Dollar Bond Robbery
10 The Adventure of the Cheap Flat
11 The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge
12 The Chocolate Box
13 The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb
14 The Veiled Lady
15 The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly
16 The Market Basing Mystery
17 The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman
18 The Case of the Missing Will
19 The Incredible Theft
20 The Adventure of the Clapham Cook
21 The Lost Mine
22 The Cornish Mystery
23 The Double Clue
24 The Theft of the Royal Ruby
25 The Lemesurier Inheritance
26 The Under Dog
27 Double Sin
28 Wasps’ Nest
29 The Third Floor Flat
30 The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest
31 Dead Man’s Mirror
32 How Does Your Garden Grow?
33 Problem at Sea
34 Triangle at Rhodes
35 Murder in the Mews
36 Yellow Iris
37 The Dream
38 The Labors of Hercules
39 The Nemean Lion
40 The Lernean Hydra
41 The Arcadian Deer
42 The Erymanthian Boar
43 The Augean Stables
44 The Stymphalean Birds
45 The Cretan Bull
46 The Horses of Diomedes
47 The Girdle of Hyppolita
48 The Flock of Geryon
49 The Apples of the Hesperides
50 The Capture of Cerberus
51 Four and Twenty Blackbirds
About the Author
The Agatha Christie Collection
About the Publisher
Foreword: Who Is Hercule Poirot?
He was born in Agatha Christie’s fertile brain—a refugee from the German invasion of Belgium that brought Britain into World War I, the Great War of 1914–18. Those who could flee the German onslaught did, and as a ranking policeman in the city of Brussels, Poirot might well have been taken up and put in prison.
Not the sort of thing Poirot would relish. No scope for ze leetle gray cells there. And faced with the need to occupy himself, if not to earn a living while his country was in German hands, Poirot fell back on what he did best: solving crimes.
Later he shared lodgings with an ex-officer of that war, Captain Hastings, who became in a sense his Watson, the man who carried the revolver in emergencies and who was the sounding board for theories. Hastings often had theories of his own, but just as often they were red herrings.
Poirot’s first case was The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Christie made him a ludicrous figure, with his short, portly figure and egg-shaped head, his little mannerisms, and the immaculate clothes of a bygone era. But she gave him as incisive a brain as Sherlock Holmes, a man whose mind could cut through the tangle of lies and secrets—and unerringly point to the murderer.
David Suchet portrayed Poirot to perfection in the PBS series, and even Christie’s grandson, Mathew Pritchard, wished that she had lived to see his portrayal. Peter Ustinov had taken the role in Death on the Nile, even dancing a very fine tango with one of the characters. Albert Finney had portrayed Poirot in a darker interpretation in Murder on the Orient Express. But it’s Suchet who captured not only the outward appearance of the man but the inner strength and intuitive intelligence that has given Poirot so many years of life and led new generations of readers to discover him on the printed page.
Poirot appeared in novels and in a long list of short stories. And it is here in the short stories that the Christie fan and the Poirot aficionado alike find him at his best. Christie reserved some of her most intriguing plots for Poirot, devising new ways of looking at how and why crimes were committed. Indeed, she gave the mystery genre some of its finest plot twists. You need only look at John Curran’s Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks or Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making to see how brilliantly Christie’s mind worked while creating a story. It’s a revelation to watch her fuse characters and plots as she keeps the reader guessing.
But that’s another tale. Here before us now is a feast of Poirot, of the short stories that made him famous throughout the world for almost a hundred years.
If you haven’t discovered this pompous little man with the marvelously razor-sharp mind, here’s your chance—an omnibus to savor, to dip into when you want something fun to read that keeps you on your toes spotting clues, to put on your shelf as a collector’s item, to carry in your bag for the next flight or the long commute or sitting in a doctor’s office, or to use as a companion over lunch on a rainy afternoon or at bedtime when you want to put aside the cares of the day. Poirot is all this and more. He’s the epitome of creativity; he’s the legacy of an extraordinary woman writer who can stand shoulder to shoulder with Conan Doyle and give the mystery genre a character as famous and long-lasting as Holmes.
Even her titles are evocative, often a play on familiar nursery rhymes. Just skim the contents to see the variety. And yet each one is chosen with malice aforethought. Chistie does nothing by chance.
But the mystery here, aside from the wonderful stories, is Hercule Poirot himself. Christie leads us on a merry chase, giving us more about his appearance than his biography. Clues abound, but you must watch for them and eliminate the red herrings Poirot himself deliberately plants about his past.
What cases had he already solved by the time he reached England? How old was he? Why did he choose to live in a certain place? Why was he well known to the Belgian royal family? Why had he never married? What was the connection to Captain Hastings? And what was Hastings’s first name? There was a statue of Poirot in a Belgian town—but was this his birthplace? And look at his clothing—where did he find the money to live so well, this refugee from war? Poirot himself is an enigma. Here’s your chance to get to know him as a person as well as a character. Like Christie herself, Poirot keeps secrets.
A brilliant woman who wrote mysteries, a brilliant detective who solves them—a collection of his life and works as well as hers. A gift for friends, a treasure for yourself, Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories is not to be missed.
THE AFFAIR AT THE VICTORY BALL
“The Affair at the Victory Ball” was first published in The Sketch, March 7, 1923.
Pure chance led my friend Hercule Poirot, formerly chief of the Belgian force, to be connected with the Styles Case. His success brought him notoriety, and he decided to devote himself to the solving of problems in crime. Having been wounded on the Somme and invalided out of the Army, I finally took up my quarters with him in London. Since I have a firsthand knowledge of most of his cases, it has been suggested to me that I select some of the most interesting and place them on record. In doing so, I feel that I cannot do better than begin with that strange tangle which aroused such widespread public interest at the time. I refer to the affair at the Victory Ball.
Although perhaps it is not so fully demonstrative of Poi
It was a fine morning in spring, and we were sitting in Poirot’s rooms. My little friend, neat and dapper as ever, his egg-shaped head tilted on one side, was delicately applying a new pomade to his moustache. A certain harmless vanity was a characteristic of Poirot’s and fell into line with his general love of order and method. The Daily Newsmonger, which I had been reading, had slipped to the floor, and I was deep in a brown study when Poirot’s voice recalled me.
“Of what are you thinking so deeply, mon ami?”
“To tell you the truth,” I replied, “I was puzzling over this unaccountable affair at the Victory Ball. The papers are full of it.” I tapped the sheet with my finger as I spoke.
“The more one reads of it, the more shrouded in mystery the whole thing becomes!” I warmed to my subject. “Who killed Lord Cronshaw? Was Coco Courtenay’s death on the same night a mere coincidence? Was it an accident? Or did she deliberately take an overdose of cocaine?” I stopped, and then added dramatically: “These are the questions I ask myself.”
Poirot, somewhat to my annoyance, did not play up. He was peering into the glass, and merely murmured: “Decidedly, this new pomade, it is a marvel for the moustaches!” Catching my eye, however, he added hastily: “Quite so—and how do you reply to your questions?”
But before I could answer, the door opened, and our landlady announced Inspector Japp.
The Scotland Yard man was an old friend of ours and we greeted him warmly.
“Ah, my good Japp,” cried Poirot, “and what brings you to see us?”
“Well, Monsieur Poirot,” said Japp, seating himself and nodding to me, “I’m on a case that strikes me as being very much in your line, and I came along to know whether you’d care to have a finger in the pie?”
Poirot had a good opinion of Japp’s abilities, though deploring his lamentable lack of method, but I, for my part, considered that the detective’s highest talent lay in the gentle art of seeking favours under the guise of conferring them!
“It’s the Victory Ball,” said Japp persuasively. “Come, now, you’d like to have a hand in that.”
Poirot smiled at me.
“My friend Hastings would, at all events. He was just holding forth on the subject, n’est-ce pas, mon ami?”
“Well, sir,” said Japp condescendingly, “you shall be in it too. I can tell you, it’s something of a feather in your cap to have inside knowledge of a case like this. Well, here’s to business. You know the main facts of the case, I suppose, Monsieur Poirot?”
“From the papers only—and the imagination of the journalist is sometimes misleading. Recount the whole story to me.”
Japp crossed his legs comfortably and began.
“As all the world and his wife knows, on Tuesday last a grand Victory Ball was held. Every twopenny-halfpenny hop calls itself that nowadays, but this was the real thing, held at the Colossus Hall, and all London at it—including your Lord Cronshaw and his party.”
“His dossier?” interrupted Poirot. “I should say his bioscope—no, how do you call it—biograph?”
“Viscount Cronshaw was fifth viscount, twenty-five years of age, rich, unmarried, and very fond of the theatrical world. There were rumours of his being engaged to Miss Courtenay of the Albany Theatre, who was known to her friends as ‘Coco’ and who was, by all accounts, a very fascinating young lady.”
“Lord Cronshaw’s party consisted of six people: he himself, his uncle, the Honourable Eustace Beltane, a pretty American widow, Mrs. Mallaby, a young actor, Chris Davidson, his wife, and last but not least, Miss Coco Courtenay. It was a fancy dress ball, as you know, and the Cronshaw party represented the old Italian Comedy—whatever that may be.”
“The Commedia dell’ Arte,” murmured Poirot. “I know.”
“Anyway, the costumes were copied from a set of china figures forming part of Eustace Beltane’s collection. Lord Cronshaw was Harlequin; Beltane was Punchinello; Mrs. Mallaby matched him as Pulcinella; the Davidsons were Pierrot and Pierette; and Miss Courtenay, of course, was Columbine. Now, quite early in the evening it was apparent that there was something wrong. Lord Cronshaw was moody and strange in his manner. When the party met together for supper in a small private room engaged by the host, everyone noticed that he and Miss Courtenay were no longer on speaking terms. She had obviously been crying, and seemed on the verge of hysterics. The meal was an uncomfortable one, and as they all left the supper room, she turned to Chris Davidson and requested him audibly to take her home, as she was ‘sick of the ball.’ The young actor hesitated, glancing at Lord Cronshaw, and finally drew them both back to the supper room.
“But all his efforts to secure a reconciliation were unavailing, and he accordingly got a taxi and escorted the now weeping Miss Courtenay back to her flat. Although obviously very much upset, she did not confide in him, merely reiterating again and again that she would ‘make old Cronch sorry for this!’ That is the only hint we have that her death might not have been accidental, and it’s precious little to go upon. By the time Davidson had quieted her down somewhat, it was too late to return to the Colossus Hall, and Davidson accordingly went straight home to his flat in Chelsea, where his wife arrived shortly afterwards, bearing the news of the terrible tragedy that had occurred after his departure.
“Lord Cronshaw, it seems, became more and more moody as the ball went on. He kept away from his party, and they hardly saw him during the rest of the evening. It was about one-thirty a.m., just before the grand cotillion when everyone was to unmask, that Captain Digby, a brother officer who knew his disguise, noticed him standing in a box gazing down on the scene.
“ ‘Hullo, Cronch!’ he called. ‘Come down and be sociable! What are you moping about up there for like a boiled owl? Come along; there’s a good old rag coming on now.’
“ ‘Right!’ responded Cronshaw. ‘Wait for me, or I’ll never find you in the crowd.’
“He turned and left the box as he spoke. Captain Digby, who had Mrs. Davidson with him, waited. The minutes passed, but Lord Cronshaw did not appear. Finally Digby grew impatient.
“ ‘Does the fellow think we’re going to wait all night for him?’ he exclaimed.
“At that moment Mrs. Mallaby joined them, and they explained the situation.
“ ‘Say, now,’ cried the pretty widow vivaciously, ‘he’s like a bear with a sore head tonight. Let’s go right away and rout him out.’
“The search commenced, but met with no success until it occurred to Mrs. Mallaby that he might possibly be found in the room where they had supped an hour earlier. They made their way there. What a sight met their eyes! There was Harlequin, sure enough, but stretched on the ground with a table-knife in his heart!”
Japp stopped, and Poirot nodded, and said with the relish of the specialist: “Une belle affaire! And there was no clue as to the perpetrator of the deed? But how should there be!”
“Well,” continued the inspector, “you know the rest. The tragedy was a double one. Next day there were headlines in all the papers, and a brief statement to the effect that Miss Courtenay, the popular actress, had been discovered dead in her bed, and that her death was due to an overdose of cocaine. Now, was it accident or suicide? Her maid, who was called upon to give evidence, admitted that Miss Courtenay was a confirmed taker of the drug, and a verdict of accidental death was returned. Nevertheless we can’t leave the possibility of suicide out of account. Her death is particularly unfortunate, since it leaves us no clue now to the cause of the quarrel the preceding night. By the way, a small enamel box was found on the dead man. It had Coco written across it in diamonds, and was half full of cocaine. It
“Was Lord Cronshaw himself addicted to the drug?”
“Very far from it. He held unusually strong views on the subject of dope.”
Poirot nodded thoughtfully.
“But since the box was in his possession, he knew that Miss Courtenay took it. Suggestive, that, is it not, my good Japp?”
“Ah!” said Japp rather vaguely.
“Well,” said Japp, “that’s the case. What do you think of it?”
“You found no clue of any kind that has not been reported?”
“Yes, there was this.” Japp took a small object from his pocket and handed it over to Poirot. It was a small pompon of emerald green silk, with some ragged threads hanging from it, as though it had been wrenched violently away.
“We found it in the dead man’s hand, which was tightly clenched over it,” explained the inspector.
Poirot handed it back without any comment and asked: “Had Lord Cronshaw any enemies?”
“None that anyone knows of. He seemed a popular young fellow.”
“Who benefits by his death?”
“His uncle, the Honourable Eustace Beltane, comes into the title and estates. There are one or two suspicious facts against him. Several people declare that they heard a violent altercation going on in the little supper room, and that Eustace Beltane was one of the disputants. You see, the table-knife being snatched up off the table would fit in with the murder being done in the heat of a quarrel.”
“What does Mr. Beltane say about the matter?”
“Declares one of the waiters was the worse for liquor, and that he was giving him a dressing down. Also that it was nearer to one than half past. You see, Captain Digby’s evidence fixes the time pretty accurately. Only about ten minutes elapsed between his speaking to Cronshaw and the finding of the body.”
“And in any case I suppose Mr. Beltane, as Punchinello, was wearing a hump and a ruffle?”
“I don’t know the exact details of the costumes,” said Japp, looking curiously at Poirot. “And anyway, I don’t quite see what that has got to do with it?”