Harper, 2001 (1969)
At a Hallowe'en party, Joyce - a hostile thirteen year old - boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub.
That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the 'evil presence'. But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double-murderer...
Hallowe'en Party is a late Poirot novel, set sometime around the late 1960s. In it, Poirot is called to investigate the murder of a young girl by his friend, the writer Ariadne Oliver, who was in attendance at the party when the body was found. Handily, the small village that the murder takes place in is also the home of a retired superintendent and old friend of Poirot's, and Poirot soon sets to work finding out all her can about the village's inhabitants.
All the usual elements were there: the suspicious murder, the cast of likely and not-so-likely suspects, the red herrings and Poirot's ability to piece it all together miles before anyone else. Unfortunately, Hallowe'en Party felt more like Poirot-by-numbers than an engaging crime novel. I found the 1960s setting jarring, not only because I am much more accustomed to the Poirot of the pre-war period, but because the references to the time period seemed so laboured: "secondary moderns" and "LSD" and much talk of a lenient justice system. The preoccupation with sexually-motivated child murderers and psychologically unsound individuals was distracting, too - Christie seemed to want to make a definite point about the numbers of psychologically troubled young people and a failure to keep them away from the rest of society. She made it. Numerous times.
All this I could have overlooked if it weren't for the lacklustre mystery that accompanied it. The Poirot of old seemed largely erased: no "little grey cells", no smart offices in London, and no classic denouement. The motivation for the whole thing seemed reasonably weak, and all in all, although I appreciate Christie's ability to put together a crime better than anyone else, this one just didn't do it for me.
Overall rating: 4.5/10
Book source: Borrowed from the library.