The Horses of Diomedes is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in the the U.K. in The Strand Magazine in June 1940. In the U.S., the story was first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in January 1945. In 1947, the story was grouped with 11 others, a foreword was added, and the whole collection 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 Horses of Diomedes is the eighth of twelve. It is preceded by The Cretan Bull and followed by The Girdle of Hyppolita.

Synopsis

A young doctor calls on Poirot to help as a girl he is interested in is in bad company and taking drugs.

Plot summary

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

One night, Poirot is telephoned for help by a young medical acquaintance, Dr Michael Stoddart. Going to the address given to him, Poirot finds Stoddart in one of the flats where a party had been taking place before the medical man got there. The flat is owned by a lady called Patience Grace and the party involved the use of cocaine. Mrs Grace had an argument with her boyfriend, Anthony Hawker, and she attempted to shoot him as he left the flat. She ended up inflicting a flesh wound on a tramp that was passing by and who has now been happily paid off.

Stoddart's concern is for Sheila Grant whom he met at a hunt ball in the country. She is one of four daughters of a retired army general and there is every sign that Sheila and her three sisters are starting to go wild, getting into a bad set where the cocaine flows freely. Sheila was at the party, is still at the flat having just woken up and is feeling terrible after the high of the drugs. Michael lectures her about the cocaine and Poirot introduces himself. It is obvious that Shelia has heard of him and is nervous of him.

Poirot visits Mertonshire where an old friend, Lady Carmichael, gives him details of the Grant family. All the girls are going to the bad as their father cannot control them. Anthony Hawker has an unpleasant reputation as does another of his 'lady friends', Mrs Larkin. Lady Carmichael is thrilled to think that Poirot has visited to investigate some special crime but the detective tells her he is simply there to tame four wild horses. He visits General Grant whose house is filled with artifacts of India. The General himself completes the clichéd picture, sitting in an armchair with his foot bandaged up from gout, drinking port and railing against the world. Poirot breaks the news of the drugs and listens to the cries of anger and sworn threats of the old man against whoever is getting his girls into trouble. Leaving the room, Poirot clumsily trips against his host.

Poirot manages to get himself invited to a party at Mrs Larkin's home where he meets Pamela Grant, Sheila's sister. Hawker arrives with Sheila in tow, having just come from a hunt, wanting to fill up Hawker's drinks flask. Sheila has heard from one of the house servants that Poirot visited her father the day before. He tells her of the threat she is under from her drug taking and turns to leave, as he goes hearing Pam whispering to Sheila about the flask. In the hall of Mrs Larkin's house Poirot sees the abandoned drinks flask and finds it full of white powder.

Some time later, back at Lady Carmichael's, Poirot tells Sheila that her photograph has been recognised. She is Sheila Kelly and she and the other three women under General Grant's roof are not sisters. Nor is Grant an army general. He is the head of the drugs ring and the four young women push the drugs for him. He persuades her to give evidence against the man and thereby smash the ring. He tells an astonished Michael that the "General" overdid his act as gout is usually suffered by old men, not middle-aged fathers of teenage girls. His trip was a test which Grant failed as he didn't react with pain when Poirot stumbled into him. Hawker was not a pusher of drugs but a receiver and Pam and Sheila were trying to set him up when they put the flask of cocaine in the hall of Mrs Larkin's house. Poirot tells an embarrassed Michael that Sheila is certain to lose her criminal tendencies with him to look after her...

Characters

Locations

  • 17 Conningby Mews
  • Mertonshire
    • Ashley Lodge

Research notes

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. None of the plot elements from The Horses of Diomedes were used.

Publication history

  • 1940 The Strand Magazine, Issue 594 (London), June 1940 with illustrations by Ernest Ratcliff
  • 1945 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 1945 (Volume 6, Number 20) as " The Case of the Drug Peddler"
  • 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
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.