The Capture of Cerberus is a short story written by Agatha Christie which forms the twelfth and last "labour" in Poirot's portfolio of is "labours of Hercules". Unlike the previous eleven, this story was not published individually in The Strand Magazine. A short story with the same title had been written in 1939 with the other eleven but this had been rejected for publication by the Strand. Subsequently, Christie wrote a revised story and this was put together with the first eleven and published in 1947 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, Cerberus is the twelfth and final. It is preceded by The Apples of the Hesperides.
After a long while, Poirot meets Countess Vera Rossakoff again. She tells him he can find her "in Hell". It is up to Miss Lemon to make the connection.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Poirot is leaving the London Underground at Piccadilly Circus when he passes an old acquaintance, the Countess Vera Rossakoff, on the escalators, going in the opposite direction. She insists that they meet and when asked to suggest a place, responds "In Hell..."! Poirot is puzzled but it is the unflappable Miss Lemon who coolly informs him it is the name of a new London nightclub and books him a table for that night. The club is in a basement and is decorated in styles of hell as represented by different cultures. It even has a large black, vicious-looking hound at the entrance called Cerberus. Rossakoff introduces him to Professor Liskeard who advised her on the decorations (although he is ashamed of the gaudy results), and to Dr Alice Cunningham, a practitioner of psychology who is engaged to Rossakoff's son, currently working in America. Alice and Poirot do not get along. She is coldly interested in criminal tendencies and finds Rossakoff's kleptomania interesting, but to Poirot's chagrin, she does not seem at all interested in the legendary detective! His questioning of her manner of dress with her heavy coat and pocketed skirt instead of a more feminine style of clothing does not go down well. However, Alice does find an individual called Paul Varesco fascinating. He is a good-looking lounge lizard with a very dubious reputation and she spends time dancing with him, questioning him incessantly about incidents in his childhood which could have contributed to his personality. Poirot recognises a young Scotland Yard detective in the crowd in evening dress and feels that something is going on...
Seeing Japp the next day, Poirot's suspicions are confirmed. The club is being watched by the police as they have linked it to a dope ring. They cannot trace the person who put up the money to buy the club but they do know the dope is being paid for by jewellery. Rich ladies swap their stones for paste imitations and drugs, later denying they knew of the substitution when they contact the police and their insurance companies. Scotland Yard have traced the work done on the jewels to a company called Golconda, and from there to Paul Varesco. Under the guise of picking up a wanted murderer, the police raided the club but were unable to find any jewels or dope secreted in the club or on anyone there, particularly Varesco.
Poirot questions Rossakoff about the true owner of the club. She denies that anyone else is the owner, but she is horrified to be told of its dope connection. Japp tells Poirot of another plan to raid the club and Poirot makes his own arrangements. On the night of the raid, Poirot stations a small man called Higgs outside the club.
The morning after the raid, Japp phones Poirot to tell him they found jewels in the pocket of Professor Liskeard but he has been set up. However no dope was discovered so someone must have removed it from the club. Poirot tells the astonished Japp that he was responsible, and then puts the phone down.
Rossakoff arrives at Poirot's flat. She happily confesses to Poirot that she put the jewels in the professor's pocket as she had found them in her own bag when the raid started, and so she had to get rid of them as quickly as she could. It was Varesco who planted them on her and she admits that he is the true owner of the premises. Poirot takes her into the next room where Higgs and Cerberus are waiting. Higgs is able to handle any dog and took the otherwise fierce animal out during the raid. Poirot asks Rossakoff to order the obedient dog to drop what it is holding in its mouth and it does so. A small sealed packet of cocaine drops to the ground. A shocked Rossakoff loudly proclaims her innocence and Poirot says he believes her – the true criminal is Alice who is in league with Verasco. She carried the drugs in her large skirt pockets and dropped them into her clients' pockets on the dance floor. When the raid occurred and the lights went out temporarily, Poirot was waiting by Cerberus and heard her put the packet in the dog's mouth – and Poirot took the opportunity to cut off a sample of cloth from her sleeve as proof.
- Hercule Poirot
- Felicity Lemon
- Chief Inspector Japp
- Countess Vera Rossakoff
- Professor Liskeard
- Dr Alice Cunningham
- Aristide Papopolous
- Paul Varesco
- Detective Inspector Charles Stevens
- Lady Carrington
- Prince Henry of Scandenberg
- Vitamian Evans
- Lady Beatrice Viner
- William Higgs
- Piccadilly Circus station on the London Underground
- The Hell nightclub, Temple Bar
- According to the text, it has been twenty years since Poirot last met Countess Vera Rossakoff (presumably in The Crag in the Dolomites.
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
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. Some plot elements from "The Capture of Cerberus" were used.
- 1947: This Week, 16 Mar 1947, as "Meet Me in Hell".
- 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
- 1950: Argosy, vol. 11 no. 12, Dec 1950, as "Case of the Capture of Cerberus".
- 1961: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, vol. 37 no. 6, whole no. 211, Jun 1961, as "Hercule Poirot in Hell".
- 1961: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (Australia), no. 170 Aug 1961, as "Hercule Poirot in Hell".
- 1961: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (UK), no. 107, Dec 1961, as "Hercule Poirot in Hell"