The Chocolate Box is a short story written by Agatha Christie, which was first published in The Sketch in May 1923 in the U.K. The story was published in the U.S. in The Blue Book Magazine in February 1925. In 1925 also, the story appeared as part of the U.S. edition of the anthology Poirot Investigates but not in the U.K. edition published a year earlier. In the U.K., the story was finally anthologized in the collection Poirot's Early Cases, published in 1974.
Poirot recounts to Hastings one of his failures, an early case of his from the time he was a policeman in Brussels.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
In their flat one night, the conversation between Hercule Poirot and Hastings turns to the latter's belief that Poirot has never known failure in his professional career. The little Belgian tells him that is not the case and tells Hastings of one occasion when he did not succeed in unravelling a crime:
The event was the death of Paul Déroulard, a French Deputy who was living in Brussels. The time was the strife over the separation of church and state and M. Déroulard was a key player in these events as an anti-catholic and a potential minister. He was a widower, his rich young wife having died from a fall downstairs some years before. He inherited her house in Brussels and, although abstemious in terms of drinking and smoking, he had a reputation as a ladies man. He died suddenly in his house from reported heart failure on the eve of his promotion to minister of the state at a time when Poirot was a member of the Belgian detective force. He was taking a vacation when he received a visit from Mademoiselle Virginie Mesnard who was a cousin of M. Déroulard's dead wife who was convinced that the death was not natural. M. Déroulard's household consisted of four servants, his aged, but very infirm aristocratic mother, Mademoiselle Mesnard herself, and on the night of the death, two visitors: M. de Saint Alard, a neighbour, and John Wilson, an English friend.
Poirot was introduced into the household under a false pretext by Mademoiselle Mesnard and he began by investigating the meal served on the night of M. Déroulard's death but found no leads there. Looking in the study where the death actually occurred, Poirot spotted an open but full and untouched box of chocolates and found out that M. Déroulard ate some chocolates every night after dinner and finished the previous box on the night of his death. However, he noticed that the two boxes, one blue and one pink, had had their lids switched. Poirot then spoke to the dead man's doctor and discovered that M. de Saint Alard was an ardent Catholic whose friendship with M. Déroulard was being sorely strained by the political turbulence at the time. The doctor was also able to furnish examples of the types of poison that could be introduced into the chocolates which would have induced the type of death suffered. This caused Poirot to question local chemists where he found out that apart from eye drops for the aged Madame Déroulard, a prescription was made up for John Wilson of trinitrin within tiny tablets of chocolate (the medication being given to lower blood pressure). A large enough dose would prove fatal and could have been hidden in one of the chocolates.
This latest development caused a problem for Poirot as Wilson had the opportunity but not the motive whereas the position was reversed for M. de Saint Alard. Poirot then wondered why John Wilson had not come from England with enough of his medication to last him throughout his visit and he discovered from a maid in the house that a bottle of the tablets had been "lost". He decided to investigate the house of M. de Saint Alard in the Ardennes and, using the disguise of a plumber, he discovered in the bathroom cupboard there the empty bottle of medication. He returned to Brussels and it was then he obtained a summons from Madame Déroulard. Having discovered that Poirot was a police officer, she confessed to the murder of her son. Some years before she had seen him push his wife down the stairs and had realised the sort of man she had brought into the world. Afraid of the persecution that his new role would bring upon the church, she resolved to kill him. She took John Wilson's tablets and opened a new box of chocolates before seeing that one remained in the previous box. Into this she put the tablets and she put the empty bottle into M. de Saint Alard's pocket thinking that his valet would throw it away, not put it in the cupboard.
Madame Déroulard died a week later of her infirmities leaving Poirot to consider his mistakes: He knew Madame Déroulard had bad eyesight so no one else would have switched the lids on the two boxes of chocolates. Also, if M. de Saint Alard had been the criminal, he would never have kept the empty bottle. To this day, Poirot laments the failure of the little grey cells on that occasion - although, as Hastings notices, not enough to prevent him boasting of the other times when they have served him well!
- Hercule Poirot
- Arthur Hastings
- Madame Déroulard
- Paul Déroulard
- Virginie Mesnard
- M. de Saint Alard
- John Wilson
References to other works
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
Agatha Christie's Poirot
A television film with David Suchet as Poirot was produced as episode 6 of Series 5 of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, first broadcast on 21 February 1993. The adaptation is fairly faithful to the original story with some changes to the main characters.
- 1923: The Sketch, Issue 1582 (London), 23 May 1923 as "The Clue of the Chocolate Box"
- 1924: The Blue Book Magazine, Vol. 40 No. 4, February 1925
- 1925: Poirot Investigates, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1925
- 1962: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, vol. 40 no. 5, whole no. 228, Nov 1962, as "The Time Hercule Poirot Failed".
- 1963: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (UK), no. 122, Mar 1963, as "The Time Hercule Poirot Failed".
- 1963: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (Australia), no. 187, May 1963, as "The Time Hercule Poirot Failed".
- 1974: Poirot's Early Cases, Collins Crime Club (London), September 1974, Hardcover, 256 pp; ISBN 0-00-231312-X