Book name: Halloween Party
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Collins Crime Club
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Genre: Murder mystery
Publication Date: 1969
Star Rating: 5/5
Halloween Party is an Hercule Poirot murder mystery set in Woodleigh Common, a village in Kent within commuting district of London.
Life in Agatha Christie's English villages is rarely peaceful, and Woodleigh Common has seen more than its fair share of murders in the past.
At a children's Halloween party held by Rowena Drake, Joyce Reynolds is murdered only hours after boasting to everyone that she 'saw a murder once'.
This is generally dismissed as typical lying from Joyce.
However, after Joyce is found drowned in the pail of water previously used for apple bobbing murder mystery writer Ariadne Oliver, who was there, begs her old friend Poirot to solve the crime.
Poirot's investigation centres around which murder Joyce might have witnessed. She mentioned that she didn't know at the time that it was a murder, which at least eliminates the previous crimes that have been identified (but not always solved) in the village.
He is just beginning to get a handle on who the culprit might be when Joyce's brother Leopold, who was blackmailing the murderer, is also killed.
Halloween Party is an intriguing example of almost playful misdirection by Agatha Christie. Everyone, including the police, assume that Joyce is the victim of an anonymous crime at the hands of a male stranger with a sexual motive.
Much is made in the early chapters of this assumption, apparently universally accepted as fact by everyone but Poirot.
It is a complete negation of everything that features in a typical murder mystery, where the killer is almost invariably known both to the victim and those around them, and where the motive is never as impersonal as a sexual assault.
The reader appreciates that the murderer, lingering out there in the night on the improbable basis that he will be able to gain entry to a house with dozens of people in it, assault and murder a young girl, is a figment of the collective imagination.
As Poirot himself points out 'old sins cast long shadows', even in the life of a young girl, and he catalogues each disappearance, tying them back to those present not just at the party in the evening but at the preparation session earlier where Joyce made her boast.
From then on it is a process of deduction that leads him to solve the original murder, too, the one the unreliable Joyce claimed to have seen.
I'm a great fan of Halloween, and it is an incredibly evocative setting for a murder. Amid the cosy children's party, the faux horror turns real as Joyce's body is discovered.
I love that in writing Halloween Party Agatha Christie went back to Halloween's heritage as Celtic festival Samhain, which has been linked to child sacrifice, and stayed true to its history by making not one but two children the victims of her tale.
It isn't often that murder mysteries feature the death of a child, but the cultural identity surrounding Samhain functions to give the author permission to proceed with delicacy and she, as always, got the balance just right.
Thank you for reading my review of Halloween Party by Agatha Christie.
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