collection first published in 1947
All this Poirot took in before, with all the impulsiveness of her Russian nature, Countess Vera Rossakoff, resplendent in scarlet evening dress, bore down upon him with outstretched hands.
“Ah you have come! My dear – my very dear friend! What a joy to see you again! After such years – so many – how many? – No, we will not say how many! To me it seems but as yesterday. You have not changed – not in the least have you changed!”
The last story in the book concerns a nightclub called Hell, with some very well-imagined décor - the TV people took only elements of this story, missing out on what could have been a marvellous set:
On each step [of the stairs down to the club] a phrase was written. The first one ran:
“I meant well…”
“Wipe the slate clean and start afresh…”
“I can give it up any time I like…”
“The good intentions that pave the way to Hell” Hercule Poirot murmured appreciatively.
The club is owned by Countess Vera Rossakoff (leftover from The Big Four, which really is the worst Poirot book) who is a rather surprising Irene Adler to Poirot: The Woman, the only one that he ever shows any real human interest in, and one who gives him as good as she gets. When Poirot suggests that it is expensive to come to her club, she replies “Are we not told that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Naturally, then, he should have priority in Hell.”
The plot involves drugs in a rather modern manner – as does one of the other stories, along with a couple where drugs are used as mind-altering substances. All very modern, and in one story – The Augean Stables – there is a fascinating look at the workings of the press: the story is a complete farrago, but the assumptions and thinking behind it are worth a moment’s thought.
In the story The Cretan Bull, Poirot looks at a portrait – ‘A woman with auburn hair and an expression of radiant vitality’ – and his host says it is by Orpen - a rare mention by Christie of a modern artist. It sounds something like this picture by Sir William Orpen, used on the blog to illustrate Henry James’s Wings of the Dove:
--- and the woman in scarlet above is Orpen’s portrait of Madame Errazuriz. Both pictures are from the Athenaeum website.