Hallowe'en Party

Hallowe'en Party is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in November 1969 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed for twenty-five shillings. In preparation for decimalisation on February 15, 1971, it was also priced on the dustjacket at £1.25. The US edition retailed at $5.95.

The novel features her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and the mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver. The novel’s concentration on child murder (with its possible sexual motivation), the irresponsibility of teenagers and the crisis in crime and punishment make it one of Christie’s most modern and unsettling novels.

Plot introduction

Before a children's Halloween party attended by Ariadne Oliver, teenager Joyce Reynolds declares that she has seen a murder some years earlier, but has only recently realised what she had seen. At the end of the party, Joyce is found drowned in the bucket used for apple-bobbing. Mrs. Oliver and Poirot investigate.

Plot summary

Everyone in the village of Woodleigh Common seems to agree that Joyce was a liar, and that it is most likely that she was not a witness to any sort of murder, but Poirot persuades his old friend, ex-Superintendent Spence, to draw up a list of possible murders in the area within the last few years. The most lucrative death has been that of Mrs. Llewellyn- Smythe, the aunt of Rowena Drake, who had died of apparent natural causes. Following her death a codicil to her will was thought to have been forged by its beneficiary, the au pair, Olga Seminoff, who is believed to have gone on the run when the forgery was discovered. Other deaths include the death from skull injuries of Charlotte Benfield, the stabbing of a solicitor (Lesley Ferrier) and the strangulation of Janet White. This last murder is regarded as the most probable murder for Joyce to have witnessed, because strangulation might not appear at first sight to be murder.

In a return to the style of Poirot’s mysteries published in the thirties and early forties, the detective gathers information through a painstaking series of interviews. Elizabeth Whittaker gives him a crucial piece of evidence when she says that during the party Rowena Drake, apparently startled by something or someone she had seen in the vicinity of the door to the library where Joyce had been murdered, dropped and smashed a full vase of flowers. Other suggestive pieces of evidence include the fact that Lesley Ferrier had previously been suspected of forgery. Were Lesley and Olga working together to secure the inheritance? If so, why does Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe’s cleaner confide to Mrs. Oliver that she had witnessed a genuine will that did indeed leave the entire fortune to Olga?

Poirot visits a sunken garden built for Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe in an abandoned quarry, where he meets the beautiful young man who designed the garden: Michael Garfield. While there, he also meets the elfin Miranda Butler, a striking young girl who has befriended Michael and spends a great deal of her time in the Quarry Garden.

Joyce’s younger brother, Leopold, has been obtaining money from someone. Soon, however, he also falls victim to the murderer: drowned on the way home. Rowena, obviously very upset by his death, admits that it was Leopold that she had seen leaving the library. She had wrongly inferred that the boy had killed his sister: something that she could not bring herself to admit previously.

Poirot now has enough information to proceed and persuades the police to dig up an abandoned well in the Quarry Garden whose existence had been mentioned by Miranda. Within its depths are discovered the remains of Olga, who had been stabbed like Ferrier. Poirot sends to Mrs. Oliver to get Mrs. Butler and Miranda safely away from the village as soon as possible, but when they stop for lunch Miranda is abducted by Michael Garfield, who takes her to a pagan sacrificial altar where he clearly intends to kill her. He is only stopped by Nicholas Ransom and Desmond Holland, two teenagers who had been persuaded by Poirot to trail Miranda. Garfield commits suicide by swallowing the poison that he had intended her to drink.

Garfield, Olga’s secret lover, had been working with Rowena to secure her inheritance. The real will leaving Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe’s fortune to Olga had been replaced with a forgery to the same effect produced by Lesley Ferrier. Both Ferrier and Olga had then been murdered, but the murder of Olga had been witnessed by Miranda, who told Joyce much later about it. Joyce, an inveterate fantasist, had made the story her own, and had convinced Rowena that it was Joyce whom she had suspected of watching on the night of the murder. Rowena had quickly drowned Joyce, later dropping the vase to explain why her clothing was so wet. Subsequently, Leopold had used what little he knew to blackmail Rowena, and had been himself murdered.

Garfield has participated in all this through a vain, narcissistic desire to construct another perfect garden with Rowena’s money on a Greek island that she has secretly purchased. Poirot’s final intuitive leap is his suspicion that the bond between Miranda and Garfield was a familial one: Judith Butler is not a widow, but is rather the mother of Garfield’s illegitimate daughter. His willingness to murder his own daughter in order to further his ambitions merely confirms the tremendous evil that Poirot has been able to uncover and defeat.

Characters in “Hallowe’en Party”

  • Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective
  • Ariadne Oliver, the celebrated author
  • George, Poirot’s valet
  • Inspector Timothy Raglan, the investigating officer
  • ex-Superintendent Spence, a retired police officer
  • Alfred Richmond, Chief Constable
  • Dr. Ferguson, a physician and police surgeon
  • Elspeth McKay, Spence’s sister
  • Joyce Reynolds, a thirteen-year-old girl
  • Leopold Reynolds, Joyce’s younger brother
  • Ann Reynolds, Joyce’s older sister
  • Mrs. Reynolds, Joyce’s mother
  • Rowena Drake, hostess of the party
  • Michael Garfield, a landscape gardener
  • Jeremy Fullerton, Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe’s solicitor
  • Nicholas Ransom, an eighteen-year-old at the party
  • Desmond Holland, a sixteen-year-old at the party
  • Miss Emlyn, headmistress of The Elms
  • Elizabeth Whittaker, Maths teacher at The Elms
  • Mrs. Goodbody, a local cleaning woman
  • Judith Butler, a young widow
  • Miranda Butler, Judith’s twelve-year-old daughter
  • Harriet Leaman, former cleaner for Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe
  • A churchyard gardener

Literary significance and reception

Robert Weaver in the Toronto Daily Star of December 13, 1969 said, "Hallowe'en a disappointment, but with all her accomplishments Miss Christie can be forgiven some disappointments...Poirot seems weary and so does the book.

Robert Barnard: "Bobbing for apples turns serious when ghastly child is extinguished in the bucket. The plot of this late one is not too bad, but the telling is very poor: it is littered with loose ends, unrealised characters, and maintains only a marginal hold on the reader's interest. Much of it reads as if spoken into a tape-recorder and never read through afterward.

Shopping website was much more enthusiastic in its review, stating: "The tension mounts until it explodes in a dazzling denouement, which is as logical as it is unexpected. Here is a novel that bears the unmistakable stamp of a gifted artist. The intricate puzzle, the unfaltering suspense, and the insight into those human passions that lead to murder."

References or Allusions

References to other works

  • Superintendent Spence brought to Poirot the case solved in Mrs. McGinty's Dead and which they discuss in Chapter 5. The case is also recollected by Poirot in Chapter 3, when Poirot recalls Mrs. Oliver getting out of a car and “a bag of apples breaking”. This is a reference to her first appearance in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, Chapter 10.
  • Miss Emlyn mentions in Chapter 10 that she knows of Poirot from Miss Bulstrode, who previously appeared as a character in Cat Among the Pigeons.

References to actual history, geography and current science

  • The first half of the novel contains several discussions in which anxiety is voiced about the Criminal Justice System in Great Britain. This in part reflects the abolition in 1965 of capital punishment for murder.
  • The novel reflects in many respects its time of publication at the end of the permissive sixties, but nowhere more so than when a character dares to use the word lesbian in Chapter 15.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

Agatha Christie's Poirot

The novel has been adapted for an episode in the series Agatha Christie's Poirot starring David Suchet with transmission expected in 2008.

Graphic novel adaptation

Hallowe-en Party will released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on October 1, 2008, adapted and illustrated by "Chandre" (ISBN 0-00-728054-8).

Publication history

  • 1969, Collins Crime Club (London), November 1969, Hardback, 256 pp
  • 1969, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1969, Hardback, 248 pp
  • 1970, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 185 pp
  • 1972, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 189 pp
  • 1987, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, ISBN 0-70-891666-X

The novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine Woman's Own in seven abridged instalments from November 15 - December 27, 1969 illustrated with uncredited photographic montages.

In the US, the novel appeared in the December 1969 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.


External links

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