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The Capture of Cerberus is a short story originally written as part of the 12 short stories making The Labours of Hercules.

The short story was written and submitted in 1939. It was rejected by The Strand Magazine and was not published as part of the series. A new story under the same title first appeared in the Collins first edition. The original story which Strand rejected only surfaced in 2009 in Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by John Curran. The text of the story was published by the Daily Mail on 28 Aug 2009[1]


While in Geneva, Poirot meets the Countess Rossakoff again. She introduces him to one Doctor Keiserbach. The Countess describes Poirot's abilities with great enthusiasm and speaks of him being able to bring a dead person back to life. This seems to fascinate the doctor and later, he asks Poirot to do exactly this.

Plot summary[]

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

Poirot is in Geneva where he meets the Countess Vera Rossakoff. She introduces him to one Doktor Keiserbach. The countess is lavish in her praise for Poirot and tells Keiserbach that Poirot can even bring the dead back to life (referring to events in the The Big Four. This seems to interest Keiserbach who meets with Poirot privately later.

Keiserbach tells Poirot that his real name is Lutzmann, and he is the father of Hans Lutzmann who supposedly assassinated the German dictator August Hertzlein during a political rally some months ago. Hertzlein was known as "the dictator of dictators" whose warmongering had brough Europe to the brink of war. Keiserbach tells Poirot he does not believe this happened the way the standard narrative described. His son, who was himself killed during the assassination was devoted to Hertzlein and would never think of assassinating him. He has another theory which he invites Poirot to investigate and this runs along the theme of bringing the dead back to life. Poirot does not think the idea to be insane and agrees to the commission.

By sending professional psychiatrists as agents to comb the mental homes in Alsace and Lorraine, Poirot locates August Hertzlein who has been held in one of them as a mental patient. Along with the information about Hertzlein comes a warning to "beware of the dog". With the help of a professional dog stealer and a cat burglar, they rescue him. Poirot explains to a surprised Hertzlein the chain of reasoning that led to him being found. A few months before Hertzlein's "assassination", there were rumours that he had fallen under the influence of a Catholic preacher Father Ludwig and that he had turned from being a war monger to a passionate pursuer of world peace. Supposing these rumours to be true, Hertzlein's political cronies would see their positions threatened. They arranged for a body double to be at the political rally and get assassinated so that they could seize power themselves amid the flood of sympathy. Meanwhile they kidnapped Hertzlein. Poirot reasoned that Hertzlein would be kept in a mental home, since there would be many patients suffering from megalomania all claiming to be Hertzlein or other political leaders. Were Hertzlein to protest his real identity, no one would believe him. The nursing home could not be in Germany but should be nearby. This suggested Alsace or Lorraine where there were many German speakers and a German speaking patient would not be out of the ordinary. Hertzlein confirms Poirot's deductions and tells him he is indeed committed to the path of world peace. Meanwhile, the dog which guarded the mental home is given to the Countess Rossakoff as a pet. When the countess asks Poirot for the dog's name, he tells her to just call him "Cerberus".

Research notes[]

  • The reason Strand rejected the story is not precisely known but, as John Curran suggests, it is probably related to the clear political overtones in the story with its easily identified political characters. Given the events overshadowing Europe in 1939, the optimistic ending of the story would seem unrealistic and even ludicrous.



  • Bondolini
  • Golstamm
  • Von Emmen
  • Father Ludwig
  • Doktor Weingartner
  • Schwartz


  1. A. N. Wilson, "Unseen for 60 years, the Mail proudly presents Agatha Christie's lost masterpiece, The Capture of Cerberus," Mail Online, 28 Aug 2009. URL