Agatha Christie’s “New” and Unpublished Hercule Poirot Story
“The Capture of Cerebrus” was the title of a short story Agatha Christie published in 1947. But as it turns out, that story cannibalized the title from a completely different story, one featuring Hercule Poirot, but one that – until this past weekend – never saw the light of day. The Daily Mail published the story with a preface by A.N. Wilson, who explains why this is cause for celebration:
so unusual for her. It is one of her rare excursions into making direct
political comment, which is why it was never published.
In the course of the plot, Christie expresses the naive hope that
Hitler could have been converted to Christianity and begun preaching
love and peace.
There really were people in the Thirties who believed this. One
of them was Frank Buchman, founder of the Oxford Group, a hugely
influential movement which has gone under various titles, including
Moral Rearmament and Festival Of Light.
But no publisher was going to touch such an inflammatory plot
in 1939, which was when Christie submitted Cerberus to Strand magazine
as one of the short stories in her series The Labours Of Hercules.
Wilson also extols over the fact that "Hercule Poirot is
stirred into excitement by feminine beauty" though it seems to me he's reaching just a little bit. But it's a fun story, nonetheless, one that will probably prove to be the basis of yet another teledrama starring David Suchet.
The story's discovery owes to John Curran, who read through all of Christie's notebooks and edits choice selections in a book HarperCollins UK is publishing next month. (That book will include "The Capture of Cerebrus" as well as another heretofore unpublished Poirot story.) But Laura Thompson, Christie's biographer, believes the author would have chafed at the notion that her secret scribblings would get a public airing:
billion copies: more, as the familiar phrase has it, than everything
except Shakespeare and the Bible. "The disappointing truth is that I
haven't much method," Christie told the BBC, almost apologetically. As
well as scribbling ideas in her notebooks, and on random scraps of
paper, what she found most productive was to walk around the
countryside, talking aloud to herself, thinking through her plots. And
then came the finished product: smooth, seamless, deceptively simple,
with the authorial presence barely visible.
She would have rued
the publication of the notebooks, that is for sure. She gave away
nothing; and that was how she liked it. Only in the six straight novels
that she wrote between 1930 and 1956 did she reveal anything of
herself, within the protection of a pseudonym. She was devastated when
her secret identity, "Mary Westmacott", was exposed in 1949, even
though the novels received reviews that most authors would have been
glad to claim. The pseudonym, like the facade of "Agatha Christie" that
she wrapped around herself, was a means to keep the world at bay.
In other words, the qualities that made Christie who she was as a writer are, according to Thompson, "not to be found in the pages of her notebooks. It lay within the woman herself: the mystery within her mysteries." And yet we all want to know the stories behind the stories, the way in which an author's mind works. And if Curran's efforts glean even an extra sliver of information, that's more than readers knew before – and a good thing.