And so thirteen-year-old Joyce Reynolds signs her own death warrant. Later that night, at a Hallowe’en party (as observant readers of the title may well have deduced), Joyce is found dead, drowned in the apple-bobbing tub. But Joyce was known to be a liar – surely nobody believed her tale. Certainly Ariadne Oliver, the famous crime writer, didn’t when she first heard it. But after Joyce’s death, she suspects that there was more to the claim than anyone believes. And luckily, Ariadne Oliver has a friend who is rather good at finding the truth of things.
Hercule Poirot begins to look into the past – surely if the murder that Joyce saw could be solved, then the present day murderer will be revealed. But with more than your fair share of mysterious deaths in the past few years to look into, will he be able to find the one that leads to the truth?
So why this one? A few reasons:
First off, it’s nearly that most pointless of celebrations, Hallowe’en.
Hallowe’en fact – the National Retail Association estimated that last year, US citizens would spend $350 million dollars on Hallowe’en costumes for their pets!
Second, I needed something for Past Offences’ Crimes Of The Centuries #1969book and I was struggling to find something obscure from my shelves. So I went for something obvious instead.
Third, I’ve mentioned the long deterioration in Carr’s work as opposed to the general maintenance of standards by Christie. So with this being the penultimate Poirot and with only four more books after this, this felt like a good one to look at.
And finally, in a comment on my Carr vs Christie post, Santosh mentioned that he considered Hallowe’en Party to be on a par with the “sheer awfulness of Elephants, Frankfurt and Postern”. And I’ve read this before – a couple of times, in fact – and awful certainly wasn’t a word that sprang to mind. So I figured I needed to take another look at it.
It still doesn’t, in fact. I think this one is rather good.
True, there are similarities to earlier Poirot novels, the murder of a young girl who knows too much from Dead Man’s Folly, the “which past crime is the important one” from Mrs McGinty’s Dead in particular, but it’s played out differently. There’s a feel of being set in a later period from the earlier books, as a number of characters refer to the increase in violent crime (or more likely, the increase in the knowledge and reporting of such events), but Christie is much more accepting of the passing of time that Carr ever was. For example: “I can’t help thinking that girls are really very silly nowadays.” “Don’t you think they always were?” is an early knowing exchange in the book.
The mystery is nicely complex, but, with hindsight, part of the solution is very obvious indeed. Pretty sure I didn’t spot it the first time through – or even the second time, come to think of it. The overall picture would take a lot of solving, one aspect in particular seeming to be an intelligent guess on Poirot’s part rather than being based on any evidence, but this isn’t the first time such a thing happens in the books. The plot drags a little in the middle third, but picks up again towards the end with an exciting climax, involving a smart bit of misdirection on what the reader thinks they know what happened.
It’s interesting to see on the Wikipedia page for the book that some people see aspects of the book as being unresolved. Yes, one or two of the past incidents aren’t addressed, but there really is no need to. So I’m going to have to disagree with the nay-sayers on this one – I thought it was a solid entry in the series, a vast improvement on The Clocks and Third Girl (which is perfectly fine in it’s own right). This one is Highly Recommended.
So now, I’m wondering – what about Elephants Can Remember, as I’ve positive memories of that one too…