” For himself, Poirot did not agree. He was a man who thought of first always of justice. He was suspicious, had always been suspicious, of mercy—too much mercy, that is to say. Too much mercy, as he knew from former experience both in Belgium and this country, often resulted in further crimes which were fatal to innocent victims who need not have been victims if justice had been put first and mercy second. ” (Ch.14, p.153)
Mystery and crime writer Ariadne Oliver has gone with the friend with whom she is staying, Judith Butler, to help with the preparations for a children’s party which is to take place the same evening. The party, hosted by rich and all-knowing Mrs. Drake, with about 25 to 30 guests, goes well until a 13-year-old girl, Joyce Reynolds, is found dead in the library, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub. Earlier at the party, the girl, whom schoolteacher, headmistress and neighbors testify as a compulsive but harmless liar, boasts that she once witnessed a murder. Everyone thought she went off home. Nobody believed her, but when they came across her dead—still in the house—they suddenly felt that she might have been speaking the truth.
The only way her death makes sense is that there really was a murder and that she was a witness to it. That would involve certain things. It would involve that one of the people who were at the party committed the murder, and that that same person must also have been there earlier that day and have heard what Joyce said. (Ch.4, p.31)
When Poirot is summoned to investigate, he adopts the most logical approach—to look at all the people who attended the party and to validate Joyce’s claim. The narrative is two-pronged, to unearth old cold cases of murders in town, which involve substantially irrelevant details that one might call red herrings, and to probe Joyce herself, because the only way her death makes sense is that a real murder has taken place.
Hallowe’en Party is an easy case that is not worthy of Christie’s holding off the revelation until the end. The readers with detective acumen would have sorted out the crucial hints long before Christie takes them through the run-around of cold cases and hypotheses. The twist at the end doesn’t add a surprising edge to the book except that the personality of a murder victim can really be correlated to the crime. It’s a fun read but not Christie’s best.
259 pp. Harper Collins. Paper. [Read/
Skim/ Toss] [ Buy/Borrow]