Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party was the 31st full-length book featuring her celebrated Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, and the 5th time that she pairs Poirot with Ariadne Oliver.
Ariadne Oliver, the celebrated crime writer, is staying with her friend Judith Butler at Woodleigh Common. Ariadne is invited to a local Hallowe’en party by Rowena Drake, an efficient, controlling but bossy woman. Judith Butler’s daughter, Miranda, is unable to go as she is ill with a temperature, and so she is sent back to bed, and will miss out on the fun and games.
The party which is being held at Rowena Drake’s house, “Apple Trees” is for the children of the town. On discovering that Ariadne Oliver has been invited, the children and guests ply Ariadne with lots of questions during the preparations for the Hallowe’en party. One 13 year old, a difficult adolescent called Joyce Reynolds, tries to impress Ariadne Oliver, whilst telling Ariadne that her last book didn’t have enough blood in it.
Joyce Reynolds then declares that she saw a murder once, a few years ago, but didn’t realise at the time that it was a murder. However now she realises that it was. Nobody believes her because Joyce is renowned for being a liar and teller of tall stories. One of her friends asks why she didn’t go to the police, but Joyce says she was young at the time and didn’t really understand what it was she was seeing. As no one believes a thing that Joyce has said, conversation soon moves on, and Joyce and her overactive imagination are soon forgotten.
The Hallowe’en party is in full swing, and everyone is enjoying themselves. Mrs Goodbody is playing the role of a witch, and the girls can also look into a mirror to see the reflection of their future husbands. All of the children and guests then become involved in a game of snapdragon in the drawing room – where raisins are placed in a wide shallow bowl of heated brandy which is set alight. The lights are switched off and the game is to pick the raisins out of the brandy which is illuminated by blue flames, and make a wish. The person with the most raisins will meet their true love within a year.
No one notices that Joyce Reynolds has disappeared. But as the children start to go home and the adults begin to clear up, Joyce Reynolds is drowned in the apple bobbing bucket in the library.
No one heard or saw anything because they were all in the other room making too much noise enjoying themselves. However the murderer must have been covered with water because Joyce Reynolds would have struggled as her head was held under the water.
Everyone seems convinced that an outsider, a maniac, must have come in and murdered the child, but Ariadne Oliver is not convinced. She seeks the help of Hercule Poirot, and tells him that she is now wondering whether Joyce Reynolds was telling the truth about witnessing a murder. Hercule Poirot is happy to come to Woodleigh Common since his old friend, retired Superintendent Spence lives there. Superintendent Spence’s first hand knowledge of the town and the people who live in it prove to be invaluable. He is also able to provide Poirot with a list of murders or unexplained deaths which have happened in the town.
All the people who are questioned agreed that Joyce Reynolds was a liar, and many examples of given of how she has made up stories to try to impress people, each time the story getting more elaborate and ridiculous.
Hercule Poirot echoes Ariadne’s view that if Joyce was making it all up, then why was she killed? His view is “The victim you see if often the cause of the crime”.
Some of the clues seem to lead to the magical Quarry Garden, built for the late Mrs Llewellyn-Smythe in an abandoned quarry. Here Poirot meets Michael Garfield, the handsome and talented landscape gardener, and Garfield reminds Poirot of Orpheus, who was able to charm the birds and beasts with his music. Whilst he is there Hercule Poirot also meets Miranda, Judith Butler’s daughter who spends a lot of time in the Quarry Garden.
And then another murder is discovered, another child is drowned ….
One of Agatha Christie’s later books, and one in which she indulges in a bit of nostalgia for Poirot’s own previous cases. Previous Hercule Poirot cases which get a mention include Mrs McGinty’s Dead, Dead Man’s Folly and the Labour of Hercules. She also indulges her passion for gardens in the book, a very rare case of her own passions showing through in her detective novels.
Published at the age of 79, it is not one of Agatha Christie’s best. One can’t help feeling that the second murder was used simply to fulfil Agatha Christie’s publisher’s requirements of a certain number of pages. Although the plot is good, if a little complex in places, overall the book is a bit of a disappointment, with some poor story telling in places.