halloween“Mrs Ariadne Oliver had gone with the friend with whom she was staying, Judith Butler, to help with the preparations for a children’s party which was to take place that same evening.”

When one thinks of Agatha Christie, one is probably inclined to think of the 1920s and 1930s, that genteel period where children were still seen but not heard, and women were expected to stay in the kitchens and marry a suitable man that their parents approved of as soon as they were of age. But, as I’ve discussed before, Christie wrote for many, many years. The first books were from the twenties, certainly, but she kept publishing long into the seventies, and her books reflect the changing ideals. It, therefore, seems rather jarring for certain words to crop up, and this is indeed a book that contains Poirot but also the words “LSD”, “lesbian”, “kinky”, “sexy” and “loo”. Nothing by our standards today, but they certainly stick out in Christie’s world.

Whatever was happening in society all the while Christie was writing, she remained an excellent crafter of stories, and this is one of my favourites.

Topical for right now, the story takes place on Hallowe’en evening when Rowena Drake is throwing a party for all the children in the village. There will be apple bobbing, fortune telling and traditional games and decorations. One of the guests is a friend of a friend, Ariadne Oliver, the famous crime novelist who has come along to join in the spirit of the party. While there, Joyce, a boastful girl on the cusp of her teenage years, announces that she once saw a murder happening. The adults dismiss her, but the children press her for details. Joyce claims that she didn’t realise it was murder at the time, and when the other children begin to doubt her story, she refuses to tell them anything else.

Hours later, Joyce is dead, drowned in the apple bobbing bucket.

Ariadne Oliver, convinced that there is a link between this murder and the one Joyce claimed to have seen, ropes in Hercule Poirot to solve the mystery. He arrives at the village and begins to interview everyone he can, finding out along the way information about the village, such as previous unexplained deaths, a forged will, and the true nature of the tragic young Joyce. With his ever-present eye for detail, Poirot begins to find links between the past and present and must tie up all the clues before it is too late…

Permit me a moment of bragging as this is the second time in around sixty Christie-penned works I’ve read or seen that I’ve worked out the solution. Yes, I got it right! Perhaps I’m starting to see through her tricks, or perhaps I just got lucky. I’m inclined to think the latter. The clues, as usual, are all there, but this time I seemed more aware of them. Obviously, I’m not going to reveal here who was behind the dastardly deed, but it’s a very pleasing solution that makes perfect sense.

Aridane Oliver remains one of my favourite characters in Christie’s world. A crime novelist, she is an avatar for Christie herself, allowing the author to put herself into her novels and discuss the life of an author. She is scatty and hilarious, and while she doesn’t necessarily follow Poirot’s reasoning all the time, it is often through her ramblings that he discovers a vital clue. This book goes into a little more detail on their relationship and shows that while they may often tire of one another’s peculiarities, they have the utmost respect for one another, each being one of the very few people the other fully trusts or unquestioningly obeys.

Thematically, Oliver is always associated with apples, and every single one of her appearances in previous books has her linked to apples. Quite rightly, however, in this book, she becomes horrified by even the thought of them. Chronologically, this is her penultimate appearance, but I’ve still got a few previous books in which to meet her, and I can’t wait.

Despite being probably one of the darkest books Christie has written (it does, after all, deal with the murder of a child), it is also very funny and full of great one-liners. It’s also hugely modern, as discussed above, and if you’re a reader who doesn’t deal so well with “olde worlde” sort of stuff, as it were, this might be a good one to go for.

All that’s left for me to say is Happy Hallowe’en, and I shall be back after the holiday with, hopefully, a slightly lighter book.

If you want something else dark to read for Hallowe’en, there’s plenty of darkness in my novel The Atomic Blood-Stained Bus, a tale of cannibalism, missing people and life after death, available on Amazon and iBooks.

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