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Halloween Party my copyThis 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.”

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Both these stories left me aching and unsettled, marveling at what could be done with so few words. Each is spooky, not in the traditional sense, but visceral and devastating. Perfect reads for this week leading up to Halloween.

The Pines by Alan Heathcock
Beautiful may seem an odd word to use, but this is a beautiful, alluring ghost story that stayed with me.  Alan Heathcock’s short story collection, VOLT, is available now in bookstores.

Daisy Chain by Eugene Cross
This deft mercurial story at once had my heart racing and my emotions twinging. Eugene Cross has a short story collection, Fires of Our Choosing, forthcoming from DZANC Books in March of 2012.

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I don’t know why, but scary books freak me out more than scary movies. Maybe because the imagination conjures up the worst, but when you see it played out on film, you start to rationalize. That can take the thrill out of it. I remember gripping the armrest during one of the Jason films, as he started to impale someone  from under a bed. A sort of spear thing poked up out of the guy and blood spewed like a geyser … but then half the theater burst into laughter. Debunked (sorry for the pun).

Likewise, the mysterious earlier deaths in The Ring felt much creepier than the final scene. Spoiler Alert: the swamp creature thing didn’t work for me. “The Master of Suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock, was a big proponent of the unseen out spooking the visual. Even his famous shower scene in Psycho was a montage of cutaways (ouch, another one) of Janet Leigh’s grimacing face and blood running down the shower. Hitchcock wanted us to imagine the really gory stuff in our own heads. Just like when we’re reading.

For Spooktober, I’m taking part in Murder, Monsters, & Mayhem (Mx3)—a group read sponsored by Jenn’s Bookshelves. Mx3 is a celebration of spine-tingling books that include: ghosts, magic, monsters, suspense, murder, mystery, the supernatural, thriller plots, or anything just plan scary!

Every day, Mx3 features a chilling new post or book review to get us in the Halloween spirit (argh, not again). I especially liked reading about the lore of monsters and the human condition by Chelsea Quinn Yasbro, a Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award winner and author.

On Twitter, follow #Mx3 hashtag for spooky links and suggestions.

Book bloggers, add your scary and Halloween-themed posts to the Mx3 linkup.

I will be chosing among the books below to celebrate Mx3!

The Book of Lost Things—John Connolly

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton—Edith Wharton

Hallowe’en Party—Agatha Christie

The Mysteries of Udolpho—Ann Radcliffe

The Night Circus—Erin Morgenstern

NightwoodsCharles Frazier

Touch—Alexi Zentner
Reviewed as a guest post at Jenn’s Bookshelves.
What are your Halloween reads and scary suggestions?

Check out scary posts at Murder, Monsters, & Mayhem (Mx3)

Add your own scary post to Murder, Monsters, & Mayhem (Mx3) linkup.

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