The Augean Stables is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.K. in The Strand Magazine in March 1940. In 1947, the story was grouped with 11 others, a foreword was added, and published as The Labours of Hercules.
The setting is on the eve of one of Poirot's many planned retirements. He wants his crowning achievement to be a series of 12 cases which he will specially selected to match those of the Twelve Labours of Heracles in Greek mythology. In the sequence of the labours pursued by Poirot, The Augean Stables is the fifth of twelve. It is preceded by The Erymanthian Boar and followed by The Stymphalean Birds.
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Poirot is asked to help the Prime Minister, Edward Ferrier, whose predecessor in the role was his father-in-law John Hammett, now Lord Cornworthy. He was held up as an exemplary role model as to what an honest and honourable politician should be. However beneath the surface he was involved in chicanery, dishonest share-dealing and misusing party funds. These revelations have come as a shock to his son-in-law who forced Hammett to resign on the grounds on ill-health and then took up the post himself. The revelations are about to be revealed to the public by a scandal sheet of a newspaper called The X-ray News when Ferrier is attempting to clean up public life. Poirot is uninterested until the Home Secretary, Sir George Conway, uses the phrase "The Augean Stables" at which point he agrees to assist. Poirot visits Percy Perry, the seedy editor of The X-ray News who he has heard has previously accepted sums of money for not printing stories. On this occasion, however, Perry refuses money and says he will publish.
Soon afterward, along with the stories about Hammett, another series of news reports start to appear in the X-ray News which hint at various sex scandals regarding Ferrier's wife, Dagmar. They paint a picture of her as wanton virago, cavorting at clubs or appearing scantily clad at beaches with a South American gigolo named Ramon. Soon after, the Ferriers sue the X-ray News for libel. The first witness for the prosecution, the Bishop of Northumbria, testifies that Mrs Ferrier was at his palace recovering on doctor's orders on the dates mentioned by the newspaper. Two doctors also appear and corroborate this. The next witness is a Danish lady called Thelma Anderson who bears a striking resemblance to Mrs Ferrier. She testifies that she was approached by a man who said he worked for The X-ray News and that he employed her as a "stand in" for a celebrity. She was asked to appear in public places and be photographed in various compromising situations with one Ramon. She did not know she was impersonating Mrs Ferrier. The Ferriers win their libel suit easily. The X-ray News is bankrupted by the damages. Poirot now reveals to an astonished Ferrier that the idea to use Thelma Anderson was his and that Dagmar was in on the plan. The idea came from Dumas's book, The Queen's Necklace. Poirot likens his effort to cleaning out "The Augean Stables". Hercules used a force of nature by damming up and then releasing a river to clean the stables out. In Poirot's case, sex was his force of nature. By first blackening Mrs Ferrier's name and then clearing her in a public fashion, the result was a wave of sympathy for the Ferriers. Now even if the account of the Hammett fraud were to be published, the public would just dismiss it as yet another smear campaign.
Agatha Christie's Poirot
A television film with David Suchet as Poirot was produced as episode 4 of Series 13 of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, first broadcast on 6 November 2013. The themes from several stories in the collection were woven loosely together for the plot of the film but no plot elements from the Augean Stables were used.
- 1940: The Strand Magazine, Issue 591 (London), March 1940 - with illustrations by Ernest Ratcliff
- 1947: The Labors of Hercules, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1947, Hardback, 265 pp
- 1947: The Labours of Hercules, Collins Crime Club (London), September 1947, Hardback, 256 pp
- 1957: The Creasey Mystery Magazine, vol. 1 no. 5, Jan 1957.