The Nemean Lion is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.K. in The Strand Magazine in November 1939. In the U.S. it was first published in The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in September 1944. 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. The Nemean Lion is the first of Poirot's 12 labours. The next would be The Lernean Hydra.
Poirot is asked to help in a case of a Pekinese dog which has been kidnapped. He says he was "attracted to it ... by its striking unimportance." It is not his normal line of work, but in this case there are some interesting features. And, he is, after all, on the lookout for a case with some association with a lion.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Poirot receives a request to investigate the disappearance of a Pekinese dog. Miss Lemon thinks it might be of interest to Poirot. At first, Poirot is mortified, shaken and even embittered. He had been dreaming of serving royalty, not recovering pets. But on closer examination Poirot has to admit that Miss Lemon is right. There is one curious detail: this is the first time a request has come from a husband for his wife's pet.
Poirot meets Sir Joseph Hoggin, a bluff outspoken businessman. He tells him the dog was taken a week ago but returned for a ransom of two hundred pounds. Hoggin would have left the matter there but for the fact that the same thing had happened to an acquaintance at his club. Poirot meets the petulant Lady Hoggin and her put-upon companion, Miss Amy Carnaby, who is clearly frightened of her employer. Miss Carnaby took the yapping dog, Shan-Tung (described by Poirot as "a veritable lion"), for his walk in the park and she stopped to admire a baby in the pram. When she looked down, someone had cut the dog's lead and it had been taken. A ransom note said to leave the money in one pound notes in an envelope for a Captain Curtis at an address in Bloomsbury.
Poirot begins his investigations. Before her appointment wtih Lady Hoggins, Miss Carnaby had worked for the late Lady Hartingfield and after that had spent some time nursing an invalid sister. Poirot visits Lady Hartingfield's niece who confirms Lady Hoggin's view of Miss Carnaby as quite foolish but "essentially a good soul." Miss Carnaby had been devoted to dogs and so Lady Hartingfield left her Pekingese to her.
Poirot interviews the park keeper who remembers the incident of the kidnap. He then investigates the address where the ransom money was sent to and finds it is a cheap hotel where letters are often left for non-residents. His third visit is to the wife of the man Hoggin met at his club who gives a very similar story to that told by Lady Hoggin as to the method of kidnap and ransom demand. His last visit is back to Sir Joseph to report on progress where he observes that Sir Joseph's relationship with his blond secretary is not exactly on a professional level.
Poirot sends his valet out investigating and finds an address which confirms Poirot's suspicions of where it would be and what he would find there. Poirot visits it and finds Miss Carnaby, her invalid sister, Emily and a Pekingese dog, Augustus. They are part of a scam run by women who are companions to rich and ungrateful ladies. These women are poorly paid, without talent and will be cast adrift when they get older. The dog that is taken out for a walk is their own, Augustus, who is let off his lead and is able to find his way back to the sister's flat unaided, thus providing witnesses to the 'crime'. The 'subject' of the kidnap is held at the sister's flat and their owner told of the ransom. Quite often it is the companion who is sent out with the envelope of pound notes which goes into a general pool for all the companions involved in the scheme. Miss Carnaby feels guilty for her crime but excuses it on the basis of the way they are treated by their employers – only the other day Lady Hoggin accused her of tampering with her tonic as it tasted unpleasant. Poirot tells them their activities must stop and that the money must be returned to Lady Hoggin although he is sure that he will be able to persuade her husband not to involve the police.
Poirot meets Sir Joseph and offers two alternatives: prosecute the criminal (who he doesn't name) in which case he will lose his money, or just take the money and call the case closed. The greedy Sir Joseph agrees to the latter option and takes Poirot's cheque. The detective turns the conversation round to murder cases and tells a rattled Sir Joseph that he reminds him of a Belgian murderer who poisoned his wife in order to marry his secretary. Poirot's meaning is quite clear and the shaken man gives Poirot his cheque back, telling him to keep the money. Poirot sends it back to the Misses Carnaby's telling them that it is the final contribution to their fund before it is wound up. Meanwhile, Lady Hoggin tells her relieved husband that her tonic no longer tastes so bitter.
- Hercule Poirot
- Felicity Lemon
- George - here his name is "Georges"
- Sir Joseph Hoggin
- Lady Milly Hoggin
- Amy Carnaby
- Emily Carnaby
- Miss Maltravers
- Lady Julia Hartingfield
- Jacob Samuelson
- Mrs Harte
- Mrs Samuelson
- Ellen Keble
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 but nothing from the Nemean Lion was used for the adaptation.
- 1939 The Strand Magazine, Issue 587 (London), November 1939 - with illustrations by Ernest Ratcliff
- 1944 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 18, September 1944 (as "The Case of the Kidnapped Pekinese"
- 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