Notes On Hallowe’en Party

Rating: Four out of five

Year of Publication: 1969

Motive of Murder: Wealth and Identity

Plot: In a Hallowe’en party preparation Joyce Reynolds is heard saying that she saw a murder once. Later at night she is dead; her head was inside a galvanised bucket among bobbing apples.

Hercule Poirot takes up the case as his distraught friend, Ariadne Oliver, happens to attend the party with her friend in the village. Coincidently,  ex-Superintendent Spence (Mrs. McGinty’s Dead) also lives there too. No sooner has Poirot arrived there he contacts the ex-high ranking officer to find out about past murders in the area.

Then what is the connection between the stabbing of a junior clerk at a respectable solicitor office and the disappearance of an au pair girl, a companion to a rich elderly woman with the death of a twelve-year-old girl during the party?

As the sleuth walks around the sunk garden, of which its creation is owing to the dead rich woman, there is something that makes him shudder. There is fear. One thing for sure, the murderer is among the people in the party.

Highlights:

Personally it is the cleverest title of Christie’s, first and foremost. The party is a  smoke screen and furthermore a taster to the journey to a tale in a wood where a dryad lives and Undine is present; from the Biblical Apochrypha in which the story of Judith and Holofernes is mentioned to the wishing well in a17th century  nursery rhymes.

Moreover, the atmosphere of the party; the murmuring of Mrs. Oliver recalling the traditions of Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving and All Saints’ Day and the traditional games played in Britain are all very visual.

What aroused my curiosity is the young who are killed – yes, there is another dead of a child after Joyce Reynolds. This is the first time I have experienced a plot in which children become the victims. Usually the authoress creates them as minor characters in which they are the silent voices in the families although their insights then provide important clues. In By The Pricking Of The Thumb a child serial killer is unmasked by Tuppence Beresford. Nonetheless the killing occur twenty years before she comes to look for a house in the painting that belongs to her husband’s late aunt Ada.

Be that as it may, it is the two motives above which I find more intriguing. On the one hand, a murderer strikes and gets the wrong child. On the other, the second killing is targeted; his ‘blackmailing’ a dangerous adult by asking for more money comes to a point whereby he must be silenced for good. In the sixties, I suppose the thought that a child could do such a cunning thing must have been unheard of. Or am I wrong in this matter? Having brought up the issue, Christie surely realised that a child is not as innocent as the adults may perceive. And she is right to point out that in most cases the parents have no idea but someone else, who is reluctant to share her notion in case of retribution.

As I was reading it, I got used to with Christie’s seemingly unrelated facts that would make sense towards the end anyhow. Yet nothing prepares me from what lies underneath ‘water’ and ‘apples’.  On the second reading I begin to understand and is grateful to Christie’s memory while writing the book (she was nearly eighty at that time).

When Mrs. Oliver decides never to touch an apple, her choice of substitution to dates is agreeable. For the fruit bears many health benefits in spite of its stickiness.

What is more amusing about her perhaps the dynamics she has with her  Belgian friend; their being chalk and cheese that turns out well. Her certain remark about something or her somewhat uncomprehending behaviour does inspire the other with his  ‘little ideas’. From her critic about his wearing tight leather patent shoes to the computer mind of his the duo never stop to draw a smile to readers.

Cliveden House and Gardens in Maidenhead, UK is part of the National Trust.

I was fascinated that Christie should describe a garden built in the former quarry in a great deal. Somehow it reminds me of Cliveden and its history. Both seem to be ambitious projects that are extremely successful.  Of equal merit is the association between the garden and the person behind the design – the character.  Without any words from the dead rich woman herself, Mrs. Llewellyn –Smythe’s legacy already tells readers a lot about her. Such also applies to the landscape gardener Michael Garfield, to whom she has commissioned to design it.

It is worth quoting in the following Poirot’s first impression of the garden.

Somehow, he thought, this was not en English garden in which he was sitting. There was an atmosphere here. He tried to pin it down. It had qualities of magic, of enchanment, certainly of beauty, bashful beauty, yet wild. Here, if you were staging a scene in the theatre, you would have your nymphs, your fauns, you would have Greek beauty, you would have too-thought Poirot, working himself up – you would have fear too. Yes, he thought, in this sunk garden there is fear.

That is strengthened as he later meets mother and daughter Judith and Miranda Butler, for their back garden is adjacent to the sunk garden. His visiting them because Mrs. Oliver stays with them in the village.  The mother is described as bearing traits of Undine whereas the daughter is a wood nymph. Her search of a forgotten wishing well and Mrs. Goodbody’s saying ding dong dell, pushy’s in the well seal it all.

In Christie’s books published in the sixties and seventies, there are references to the previous novels. In the following I will highlight five points.

First, the authoress’s playing with the words ‘cod’ and ‘codicil’ to refer to two unrelated things with similar letters at the beginning. In The Thirteen Problems,   Miss Marple works out what word a dying man is meant to say from her interviews with the cook and the maid; something that also sounds like a fish name but actually is a poisonous substance.

Second, Miss Emlyn, the Headmistress at the Elms, Joyce’s school, is an old friend of Miss Bulstrode (Cat Among The Pigeons). Sharp and forthright too, Miss Emlyn helps Poirot by directing him to the right person he must interview. Unlike Miss Bulstrode, Miss Emlyn knows exactly who the Lady Macbeth is.  Thirdly, the reference to The Labours of Hercules, in which Poirot recalls ‘a robbery of old family silver five or six years ago in Ireland’ ( the Apples of Hesperides case). This minor detail makes me frown. For the book is published twelve years beforehand and therefore either it is a genuine mistake on Christie’s part or she wants to indicate that Poirot’s mind is already failing. If the latter is the case, it will contradict the police’s judgement about the sleuth’s state of mind. ‘Do you think he’s become a little senile?’ asked the Chief Constable to Ex-Superintendent Spence. ‘No, I don’t’.

Fourth, the adage ‘old sins have long shadows’ is stated, just as in Elephants Can Remember. Besides, Poirot employs the principle of his ‘elephants’ to people who remember past occurrences clearly.

Lastly, the character Leopold Reynolds resembles Terence Christow (The Hollow); very intelligent and shrewd minds (see more in The Most Fascinating Character).  Sadly, one of them is murdered.

Finally, has it ever occurred to anyone in the authoress’s circle at that time that she should have avoided a word being repeated too soon in a paragraph? The punctuations as well. (the examples are aplenty and it is going to be tiresome to mention them here).

On the whole, Hallowe’en Party deserves an applause for its coherent structure and painstaking details of the characters.

The Twists:

-Miss Whittaker saw Mrs. Drake dropped the vase onto the floor, looking startled

-Miranda Butler and Joyce Reynolds are best friends

-Mrs. Llewellyn –Smythe went on a National Trust tour of gardens in Ireland for her inspire to the sunk garden

-Rowena Drake and Michael Garfield said that the au pair girl had had a relationship with a young man who worked at a solicitor’s office in Medchester

-Miranda Butler disappears in a restaurant when she, her mother and Ariadne Oliver stops for lunch on their way to Mrs. Oliver’s flat in London

Cast of Characters:

Anne Reynolds (the mother of Anne, Joyce and Leopold)

Ann Reynolds (Judith’s elder sister)

Ariadne Oliver (Judith Butler’s friend)

Desmond Holland ( a local lad who helps in the party preparation with Nicholas Ransom)

Elspeth McKay (ex-Inspector Spence’s sister)

The potrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1889.

Elizabeth Whittaker (Maths and Latin teacher at the Elms)

Miss Emlyn (the Headmistress at the Elms)

Dr. Ferguson (the village’s doctor)

Mr. Fullerton (the lawyer to the late Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe)

Mrs. Goodbody (the witch in the party)

Hercule Poirot

Joyce Reynolds (Leopold and Anne’s sibling)

Judith Butler (Ariadne Oliver’s friend)

Leopold Reynolds (Judith’s younger brother)

Michael Garfield (the landscape gardener)

Miranda Butler (Judith’s daughter)

Nicholas Ransom (Desmond’s friend, who also helps in the party preparation)

Rowena Drake (the host of Hallowe’en Party)

Ex-Superintendent Spence (Elspeth’s brother)

The Most Fascinating Character:  Leopold Reynolds

The youngest of the Reynolds, Leopold is a nine or ten year-old boy who is a genius. When Poirot and Mrs. Oliver come to see the family to interview them, he has been in the garden assembling an aeroplane model and seems to be totally absorbed at his work. His attitude is nonchalant, as the sleuth asks him about her elder sibling Joyce. In the short interview there seems to be little they can get from him.

Nonetheless, the later interviews Poirot conducts with Desmond and Mrs. Goodbody (see Clues) reveal more of the boy. Desmond says that Leopold is “awful. He is a sneak. He eavesdrops. Tell tales” while Mrs. Goodbody wonders how the boy gets a lot of pocket money, for his parents cannot afford much.

To my mind he reminds me of Terence Christow (The Hollow), a thirteen-year-old son of John and Gerda. Both like science and are quick to read a situation to their advantage. Also, they haven’t been listened much by their parents and therefore it is likely that they do things to seek their attention.

Unfortunately Leopold’s intelligence is not on par with his emotional quotience. His naivety does not understand the danger lurking from asking more and more from a murderer masked in their friendly look.

Prince Leopold died at the age of thirty from his condition.

His name makes me think of Prince Leopold, the eighth child of Queen Victoria, whom happened to resemble his late father’s look. Just as Christie’s Leopold,  the prince was very intelligent and full of life despite the constant worry from his dominant mother as he was born with haemophilia.

To be truthful, Leopold Reynolds is a lonely child without someone who can understand him. He does not seem to get along with his two elder sisters; I can imagine how wonderful it is for him that someone else outside the family gives him the attention he desperately needs.

Clues:

Elspeth McKay:

[to Hercule Poirot]

‘She [Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe] came here when her health failed. She was living abroad before. She came here to be near her nephew and niece, Mr. and Mrs. Drake, and she bought the Quarry House. A big Victorian house which included a disused quarry which attracted her as having possibilities. She spent thousands of pounds on turning that quarry into a sunk garden or whatever they call the thing. Had a landscape gardener down from Wisley or one of these places to design it. Oh, I can tell you, it’s something to look at.’

Miss Emlyn:

‘…Joyce- I speak plainly to you, Monsieur Poirot, because we do not want unnecessary sentiment to cloud mental faculties- she was a rather mediocre child, neither stupid nor particularly intellectual. She was, quite frankly, a compulsive liar. And by that I do not me that she was especially deceitful. She was not trying to avoid attribution or to avoid being found out in some peccadillo. She boasted. She boasted of things that had not happened, but that would impress her friends who were listening to her. As a result, of course, they inclined not to believe the tall stories she told.’

Mrs. Goodbody:

[to Hercule Poirot]

‘Leopold?Well, he’s only nine or ten, I think, but he’s clever all right. Clever with his fingers and other ways, too. He wants to study things like physics. He’s good at mathematics, too. Quite surprised about it they were, in school. Yes, he’s clever. He’ll be one of these scientists, I expect. If you ask me, the things he does when he’s a scientist and the things he’ll think of- they’ll be nasty, like  atom bombs! He’s one of the kind that studies and are ever so clever and think up something that’ll destroy half the globe, and all us poor folk with it. You beware of Leopold. He plays tricks on people, you know, and eavesdrops. Finds out all their secrets. Where he gets all his pocket money from I’d like to know. It isn’t from his mother or his father. They can’t afford to give him much. He’s got lots of money always. Keeps it in a drawer under his socks. He buys things. Quite a lot of expensive gadgets. …’

Judith Butler:

[to Hercule Poirot]

‘I wish she wasn’t so fond of it sometimes. One gets nervous about people wandering about in isolated places, even if they are quite near people or village. One’s-oh, one’s frightened all the time nowadays. That’s why – why you’ve got to find out why this awful thing happened to Joyce, Monsieur Poirot. Because until we know who that was, we shan’t feel safe for a minute –about our children, I mean…’

Michael Garfield:

[to Hercule Poirot]

‘Go on home to your police friends and leave me here in my local paradise. Get thee beyond me, Satan.’

Miranda Butler:

[to Hercule Poirot, answering his query ‘Was Joyce a friend of yours?’]

‘Yes. She was a great friend in a way. She told me very interesting things sometimes. All about elephants and rajahs. She’d been to India once. I wish I’d been to India. Joyce and I used to tell each other all our secrets. I haven’t so much to tell as Mummy. Mummy’s been to Greece, you know. That’s where she met Aunt Ariadne, but she didn’t take me.’

Rowena Drake:

[to Hercule Poirot]

‘She [the au pair girl] was friendly with a young man who worked in a solicitor’s office in Medchester. He had been mixed up in a forgery case before. The case never came to court because the girl disappeared. She realised the Will would not be admitted to probate, and that there was going to be a court case. She left the neighbourhood and has never been heard of since.’

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