I’ve decided that I’m on a bit of a mission to read as many Agatha Christie books in the next months as possible. My virtual book club chose And Then There Were None as its October picky. I’ll be honest, I didn’t pick it but mainly because it’s one of my favourite books. Certainly one of my favourite Christies. I’ll reread it but I know that I’ll leave it to the last minute. Although, that does give me time to cram in as many of her cosy crime novels as possible. This is my second after last week’s Evil Under The Sun. We’re not even halfway through yet and I’ve got a week off coming up. Hopefully, I’ll get a few more in before Halloween. Oh, speaking of Halloween…
When it comes to Agatha Christie, there are several books that everyone knows and loves. Then there are those underrated gems that people might miss out on reading. I think Hallowe’en Party is one of her most underrated books and I think it’s because of the title. I imagine that plenty of people pick up this book around October in the hope of getting something super spooky. Instead, this is a classic Poirot case that, though it might ramble a bit in places, has everything you’d expect from the Queen of Crime. It also has plenty of Ariadne Oliver who is one of my favourite Christie creations.
It is Ms Oliver who enlists Poirot’s help in the first place. The writer is staying with a friend when a teenager girl is murdered at a Halloween party. Earlier in the day, 13-year-old Joyce had announced that she had witnessed a murder years ago. Nobody believes her but, a few hours later, she is discovered face down in the apple-bobbing tub. So, had she really seen something she shouldn’t have and was this some sort of revenge? Or was she killed for another reason? Only our favourite Belgian detective can find out for sure.
This isn’t necessarily the most exciting Christie novel but I also think this gets a hard time. The title promises more than it delivers. It’s not that there isn’t a certain spookiness to the novel but the Halloween element is kind of lacking. There isn’t a supernatural phenomenon. This comes down to one thing and one thing only: human nature. As I’ve said before, Agatha Christie understands people. The way characters behave in this book is understandable and relatable. We barely meet Joyce before she meets a grisly end but she is at once so familiar. These characters feel real and it makes the story that much stronger.
There is also plenty of social commentary in this book. When Joyce is first found, there is much speculation about the nature of the crime. Was it sexual? Was it simply a madman looking for some fun? We hear a damning indictment of the criminal justice system as well as the treatment of mental illness. This was published in 1969 when Agatha was nearly 80, so I’ve always suspected this was her view of the ever-changing world around her. She has even less time for fools or madmen and it shows here more than ever.
Maybe it’s the context of her age that pushes this but there is a sense of lethargy in parts of this book. I wouldn’t say that the ending is the most surprising you’ll ever find in a Christie but there are plenty of strands to weave together. There are moments when you can’t imagine how everything fits but it does. I’ve always thought that the identity of the killer is quite obvious but sometimes that doesn’t matter. It’s not about a big reveal but figuring out how and why. Regardless of the excitement levels, this is still a great Christie and a gripping tale of murder most foul.