Book Review: “Hallowe’en Party,” by Agatha Christie

Phew, what a week. It took me forever to finish Hallowe’een Party, partly because it was a bit disappointing and partly because, I am happy to announce, I am starting a new job next week. So last week was a veritable shitshow of tying up loose ends and saying goodbye to beloved coworkers from afar, and this week has been my first *real* vacation since last August. But I didn’t want to neglect writing this review while Christie’s 39th (whoa!) Poirot book was fresh on my mind. As a disclaimer, while I did read this in order to coincide with the Halloween season, I have also read all of the prior Poirot books because I overall love this series.


From the Publisher:

A teenage murder witness is drowned in a tub of apples… At a Hallowe’en party, Joyce—a hostile thirteen-year-old—boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no-one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub. That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the ‘evil presence’. But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double-murderer…


What I Loved:

  • The Historical Context. One thing I always love about Christie’s Poirot books is how well placed they are in English history. One of the red herrings throughout this book is the mental health crisis in England (60s) and the “youths” who may or may not be beyond help. This is the height of criminal and mental reform, where the public has been induced into hysteria of girls disappearing off streets and young men who show no remorse. If you follow Poirot’s books linearly, it is fun to see the progression from WWI to WWII to the Red Scare to now, and this one was as set in its time as the others, if not more since Poirot is feeling his age.
  • The Pagan Elements. In a bit of a change from prior books, Poirot is ensconced in the mythological feel of the place – Eden is referenced, faery wells, dryads, and Narcissus. The references are rich, the setting of the quarry garden is well established and really does feel like an otherworldly place. While Hallowe’een Party didn’t have the spooky or more classically “Hallowe’en” elements that I came here for (more below), I did appreciate the faery feel.

A lovely spot, and yet in some way, Poirot felt as he had felt before, that it could be a haunted spot. There was a kind of pagan ruthlessness about it. It could be along these winding paths that the fairies hunted their victims down or a cold goddess decreed that sacrifices would have to be offered.

  • Ariadne Oliver. While I didn’t think this was her strongest showing, and book with Ariadne is a delight. She is quirky but intuitive, and I love her and Poirot’s interactions. If you want to dabble in Poirot but don’t want to undertake 40+ books, I would recommend doing the Ariadne “series,” which is a handful of books within the broader Poirot series. Ariadne is a pleasure to read and her and Poirot have a great respect and rapport.

What I Didn’t Love:

  • The Lack of Spookiness. This may be a “shame on me” scenario, but a book that opens with a murder at a Hallowe’en party and calls Poirot in to track an “evil presence” should be spooky. Instead, Hallowe’en Party is a straightforward mystery with not a lot of spook, though a little bit of whimsy. I read this and didn’t feel any other Halloween spirit I was hoping for. In fact, even the fall season wasn’t mentioned much, despite the garden setting. I felt a little let down since I did skip 37 and 38 for this to try and finish it for Halloween. However, it was still satisfying in its own way.
  • The Mystery. One of the hallmarks of Agatha Christie’s books is that the clues will all lead you to the murderer if you are clever enough. Poirot’s reasoning is explained fairly thoroughly in the end, so even if you didn’t get it leading up to the reveal (I rarely do), you have an “Aha!” moment with the rest of the cast of characters. Here, the methodology for solving the murder felt lacksidasical, Poirot’s explanation came very late, and the last thrilling bits of danger were unexplained. I don’t normally care if the murder was solvable, but this one felt a bit all over the place and not up to Christie’s standards. There were also too many red herrings.

Conclusion:

The mystery’s slapdash style without Poirot’s trademark formulaic explanation kind of ruined this one for me, because I felt confused and couldn’t piece everything together even after it was over. This doesn’t ruin Poirot for me, because this one of maybe three installations out of more than forty that I don’t like. However, it would not be the first I would recommend.

I would recommend this to diehard Poirot fans of course, and for people who love British contemporary history and social conventions. I would also recommend to people who love the Ariadne story arc. Three waves! Pick this up at Bookshop (I just became an affiliate!) if you love collecting these fun Christie covers as much as I do.

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