This was one of the first Agatha Christie mysteries I read, and, back then, I found it a bit slow. This time around, however, I really enjoyed the book. I believe that’s in part because I am so much more invested in Hercule Poirot as a character.
For newcomers to Poirot, I suggest starting with the novel that introduced him, The Mysterious Affair at Styles—one of Christie’s best. Hallowe’en Party is one of her later novels, written in 1969, and it’s a bit more nuanced. When I picked it up for the second time, I did so in eagerness to read more about Poirot and his occasional cohort, the quirky Mrs. Ariadne Oliver—a sort of literary avatar of Christie herself. I was likewise pleased to encounter Superintendent Spence on the scene. That is one of the great pleasures of reading Christie for me—the recurring cameos of previous characters. Also, this time I got all the apple jokes.
That is not to discount the plot of Hallowe’en Party. It’s another of Christie’s intricately woven puzzles, and I enjoyed the different threads as they delved into mysterious deaths and sidetracked into red herrings. The story begins with preparations for the title event, and I found the British take on Halloween fascinating. No trick or treat, but several spooky games and also, significantly, bobbing for apples. Christie makes use of autumn imagery such as late Michaelmas daisies and the slanting sun, to give the novel the gauzy feel of a late November afternoon.
This is one of Christie’s “village mysteries”, and although Woodleigh Common is a newer community, Poirot uncovers a myriad of past secrets. He also discovers a strange and menacing garden:
“There was an atmosphere here. He tried to pin it down. It had qualities of magic, of enchantment, certainly of beauty, bashful beauty, yet wild. Here, if you were staging a scene in the theatre, you would have your nymphs, your fauns, you would have Greek beauty, you would have fear too. Yes, he thought, in this sunk garden is fear.”
The theatrical Christie seems to be alluding to is Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with a precocious 12-year-old “Miranda” who is like a woodland sprite flitting about the tree branches and the rocky, overgrown paths.
Much like the garden, the book is at times enchanting and theatrical—especially the party scenes—but there is a dark, disquieting undertone. Bad things happen to some of the children and there is even a town witch. This is a perfect Halloween read with a couple of nice twists in the resolution.
Finally, it warmed my heart that Hallowe’en Party is dedicated to P.G. Wodehouse (a great lover of detective fiction himself), “whose books and stories have brightened [Christie’s] life for many years.”