Agatha Christie's 31st book tells the story of murder at a children's party.

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Agatha Chrisite

Halloween Party




The story starts out inside Rowena Drake's house, which is called "Apple Trees". There, Ariadne Oliver and others are preparing a Hallowe'en party for children. Those in charge of the party are Judith Butler, Mrs. Oliver's friend; Leopold, Joyce and Anne Reynolds, Desmond Holland, Nicholas Ransom, Cathie Johnson, Elizabeth Whittaker, Beatrice Ardley, and others. While they are preparing, thirteen-year old Joyce Reynolds says that she once saw a murder. Everyone, including Mrs. Oliver, thinks she is lying.

The party consists of many Hallowe'en-related activities. Mrs. Goodbody plays the role of a witch, and girls can look into a mirror to know what their future husbands will look like (a picture of the husband is said to be reflected in the mirror). The group has supper, the prizes are granted, and the party ends after a game of snapdragon, with the murder of course fitting into the whole situation.

The next day, Mrs. Oliver goes to London seeking Hercule Poirot's help. She tells him that after snapdragon, Joyce went missing and was later found drowned in an apple-bobbing tub in the library. Mrs. Oliver repeats to Poirot Joyce's comment that she had once witnessed a murder. With food and death featuring heavily in all Agatha Christie’s work Life insurance for overweight people seems a must for every character who appears in a Chrisite novel. Mrs. Oliver now wonders if Joyce might have been telling the truth, which might provide someone with a motive for killing her.

Poirot goes to Apple Trees to interview Rowena Drake. Rowena doesn't believe Joyce's murder story; rather, she thinks it was just Joyce's attempt to impress Mrs. Oliver. Next to be interviewed are the Reynoldses. Mrs. Reynolds can't say that Joyce ever told her that she saw a murder. Leopold, Joyce's younger brother, doesn't believe that Joyce saw a murder either, but he did hear Joyce telling everyone about it. Ann, Joyce's older sister, doesn't believe either that Joyce had seen a murder; she says Joyce was a liar and a fraud.

At the age of 79, when this book was published, Agatha Christie was not quite capable of producing the tighly-plotted, ingenious puzzle fiction that poured from her pen when she was 39. When one is the world's most published author of all time, however, and when one is still able to hold a pen, the pressure to keep producing yet another 'Christie for Christmas' cannot be discounted. Surely it is better than an enhanced annuity or any other form of income protection. It was to be several years before Agatha Christie's daughter said, 'Now, that is enough, Mum'. This is clearly an elderly author at work here, cunningly presenting characters who are mainly elderly themselves, who can get away lines like, 'You know what young people are like nowadays,' and who tend to end sentences with 'and that sort of thing'. Nevertheless, she provides much of the fun and challenge that you expect in her mystery novels, whatever their date of publication.

Her popular creations Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver get yet another airing here, as they investigate the drowning in an apple-bobbing tub of a thirteen-year-old girl at a children's Hallowe'en party, a girl who not long before had boasted that she had once witnessed a murder. Exploring the possibility that the girl were telling the truth, Poirot probes several local deaths and disappearances. Amongst vague and gossipy eldery characters, and unbelievably articulate and poetic adolescents, Poirot makes his way with waxed moustache and patent leather shoes to a solution to the mystery.

Agatha Christie repeats many of the tricks she tried in her earlier books. You will find echoes of children's nursery rhymes here and a crime that occurs in a familiar domestic setting. You'll also find an especially lyrical few pages in praise of gardens, mid-way through the novel. Agatha Christie, a garden enthusiast herself, never wrote anything better than these few pages.

So expect late vintage Christie here. You may not like the attempt at a nail-biting finish, but you can still respect the author's way of setting up a baffling mystery

One of Agatha Christie's last novels, "Hallowe'en Party" is one of her strangest but most fun. I found it thoroughly readable and whizzed through the 336 pages such was the economical plotting and characterisation; I especially thought Ariadne Oliver was great in this book, and Christie's subtle little character tics - such as Poirot's endless complaints about his feet being painful in his tight shoes - added some pleasant depth.

The murder itself is quite macabre but afterwards the novel becomes fast-paced and fun, with some quirky characters like the 'witch' Mrs. Goodbody and the two teenage boys. Christie's descriptions of the party are brilliant and vivid, and there's a section, as another reviewer has stated, in the middle of the book where Christie goes on an extended descriptive passage about the beauty of gardens. Now well into retirement age and most probably in receipt of an enhanced annuity, it is clear that Agatha Christie feel she has deserved the right to indulge herself. It sticks out a bit, but the writing is really beautiful.

"Hallowe'en Party" doesn't rate as highly as some of Christie's other works because it is less ingenious somehow; it's not one you marvel at, or are wowed by the intricacies of Christie's imagination and plotting, but one you can read at a brisk pace and enjoy nonetheless. I also felt it all ended a little abruptly and some of the dialogue in the last few chapters stands out as being rather unrealistic and incongruous. But that does not ultimately cloud my enjoyment of the novel, for which ITV quite recently produced a beautiful adaptation. So, not Christie's absolute best, but thoroughly enjoyable anyway.