Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

Hallowe'en PartyI saw a murder once.”

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…

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23 comments

  1. When I read it, far away in my youth, I remember liking it but I also patted myself on the back for twigging to the solution well in advance. It is, with BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS, the last decent Christie for me …

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  2. Would you might popping over to the Agatha Christie blog Carnival for this month and adding this URL. I would do it myself but haven’t mastered cut and paste on my iPad yet. Many thanks

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      • WARNING: I’ve attempted to address Santosh’s points without spoiling anything, but readers may be able to deduce things if they think too hard about these answers. You have been warned.

        1. Leopold is a greedy child. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have reported it afterwards?
        2. The murderer isn’t exactly sane here. And it would have drawn more attention to them as it would have required proof of death.
        3. People have different interpretations of events. Calling it murder may have been one person’s interpretation rather than all the parties. Sorry, can’t be more precise without spoiling something.
        4. Being afraid for no particular reason and thinking someone is in actual danger are two different things. And telling teenage girls what not to do never works.
        5. Fear. She panicked, pure and simple.

        I agree, those are my interpretations, rather than things that are cited in the book. But you can pull apart the majority of mystery novels if you impose logical behaviour on the characters.

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  3. Hmmm. I remember re-reading this one late last year, and not feeling too impressed. I still liked it, and enjoyed Poirot’s investigations, but if I recall correctly the deductions felt slightly tenuous.

    I re-read ‘Elephants Can Remember’ last year, and quite enjoyed it. It certainly wasn’t ‘Postern of Fate’, which left me with a slight shudder.

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    • Maybe we’ll be the two people who bring Elephants the credit it is due. But on the other hand, I haven’t read it for over thirty years, so it might be utter dog’s droppings. We’ll see – soonish!

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      • Superintendent Spence appears in Elephants also. In fact while reminiscing with Poirot he refers to ” a girl who said at a party that she had once seen a murder committed”. Though the girl is not named, Poirot’s reply contains a spoiler for Hallowe’en Party.

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  4. P.S. I’m glad to see that a review of a British Library reprint is next in line! I seemed to recall that a review of ‘Hog’s Back Mystery’ was up next, only to be replaced by a different title.

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    • Well spotted. Hog’s Back is coming but basically, the British Library sent me the latest two Farjeons and asked me to take a look. So Hog’s Back is taking a break for a while. I’ll probably get round to Mystery In White before looking elsewhere in the range.

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      • Ah, I would be interested to see how they fare in comparison to ‘Thirteen Guests’, which I quite liked. 🙂 I’ve always struggled to fully appreciate serial killer mysteries, including Ellery Queen’s ‘Cat of Many Tails’, and I’ve heard that ‘Mystery in White’ isn’t strictly ‘fair-play’.

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      • I’ve almost finished The Z Murders – review later today, probably – and it seems to be a straight thriller. It’s fun, but more in the vein of The 39 Steps than The ABC Murders. I’ll let you know about Mystery In White

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  5. Though I have not mentioned in my review, I found the characterisations by Poirot of certain persons as wood nymph, Undine (water spirit) and Narcissus rather silly.

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  6. I thought this one lacked narrative drive – too many conversations with bland characters who say that the murderer must have been a sex maniac – and the murderer is VERY obvious; the main clue is handled very clumsily.

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    • I agree that the conversations do go on a bit – but I missed the “obvious” clue when I first read it. Not sure I would now, especially as a similar idea had appeared in another book that I read recently.

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  7. This is probably the closest Christie came to writing a Ruth Rendell novel. She had already done a dry run of the Rendell style with ENDLESS NIGHT two years earlier. I like this one. In fact, it’s one of my favorites of her books. But I’m of a dark and macabre nature deep down inside me. ;^) Apart from the villainy monologue which goes on far too long at the end I think this is one of the better 60s Christies. If people think Christie is cozy I always tell them to read this one. Child murder, sexual perversion, occult weirdness, madness, obsessive love (always!), truly evil adults… As far from cozy as you get. I can see why Santosh hated it because many of the characters behave in a manner that defy normalcy and decency. But if you’ve lived the kind of life I’ve lived, met the people I’ve met, it’s not difficult to see echoes of truly complicated, unpredictable, real people in these “absurd” characters.

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