My 52 Weeks With Christie: Hallowe’en Party
Hercule Poirot with Ariadne Oliver & Superintendent Spence
During the preparations for a Halloween party Joyce Reynolds (thirteen), trying to impress Ariadne Oliver, brags that she witnessed a murder. But that she didn’t know that it was a murder at the time, because she was, “…quite young at the time.”
Everyone agreed at the time that Joyce was just telling tall tales again – but when she’s murdered a few hours later, Ariadne isn’t so sure she was. Disturbed by the child’s murder, indeed enough to swear off apples, she descends on Poirot asking for his help in solving this mystery.
In school did you ever have a teacher who assigned a report with a minimum page count? You do your research, write it out and print it up – only to discover your draft is eight pages, and the minimum is twelve?
Rather than rewriting a substantial section of your paper, you employ the time-honored tactic of padding. You add superfluous examples, extra quotes from primary sources and tangentially relevant information to your final draft. Which allows you to make your required page count – but unintentionally weakens/dilutes your thesis.
This is precisely how Hallowe’en Party felt to me. The entire time I was reading it, it felt like a short story padded out with extra bits until it reached the required length of a novel.
Which, after some research, I discovered is pretty much what happened.
Hallowe’en Party’s main plot springs from a 1935 Poirot short story called How Does Your Garden Grow?. With its keystone firmly in place, Christie then engaged in more literary recycling by stitching in elements from Dead Man’s Folly, published in 1965, to impart a sense of urgency to her narrative.
Christie then moved onto her cast of characters, Poirot’s there (obviously) but she also included two previously introduced detectives; Ariadne Oliver (who’d appeared in five other novels prior) and Superintendent Spence (who appeared in two others himself). Both easing her writing burden because we already knew who they were and allowed Christie to achieve more depth in her story through the further fleshing out of established characters.
Further augmenting the book’s length Christie embroidered in a sliver of the atmosphere from her 1961 classic The Pale Horse thru one oblique and one overt reference to Macbeth (which is a vital element of the 1961 classic). She also dedicated several paragraphs to our detective’s recollections of four previous cases and two other characters (beyond our writer and retired policeman). And to round out her page count Christie placed in some commentary on the stated of the world and the British legal system.
All of these tricks allowed her to transform an eight-page short story into a two-hundred-and-sixty-six-page novel (I am using the page counts of my editions). It wasn’t a bad story, but it’s nowhere close to the brilliance of Endless Night, or The Pale Horse both penned in the same decade as Hallowe’en Party.
What I ultimately think sinks this book to the bottom of the Potroast Level is the same thing that keeps it out of the Meringue Level. (If unclear about these levels read my review from last week, I detail them there.)
I think Hallowe’en Party is a Miss Marple mystery dressed in Poirot clothing.
Stick with me here.
Despite all the Poirot-ness crammed into Hallowee’en Party, from the reprocessed plot to the upcycled cast of detectives, I think the bones of this book actually lie in the Miss Marple canon (which made this an odd read since it took me a while to put my finger on exactly what was going on). But it started to clear up the night Oliver and Poirot drank brandy before his warm fire while she recounted the elements of the mystery to him, which sent echoes of The Tuesday Night Club thru my mind.
What clarified everything for me was Poirot’s summation of the case, which showed me that the real foundation of Halloween Party lies not with Poirot’s short story Where Does Your Garden Grow? but in Miss Marple’s “last case” Sleeping Murder.
Because it’s not the financial/inheritance shenanigans which set events in motion in Hallowe’en Party – but the eyewitness claims of a thirteen-year-old girl.
Still skeptical? Well, compare the two books. Both feature little girls who’ve witnessed a murder but due to their age don’t understand what they’ve seen until much later. When this revelation finally comes to light the killer, who up until that point believed themselves free from suspicion, murder again to cover up their initial crime. Additionally, the two stories also feature victims who supposedly ran off never to be seen again but are eventually discovered to have met grisly ends, then end up buried in places of natural splendor.
Now before you start shouting at me thru your computer, saying what about Dead Man’s Folly? It was published thirteen years prior to Sleeping Murder and contains these same elements!
But here’s the thing not everyone knows (and which I find vastly irritating about most Marple reading lists), that while Sleeping Murder was published after Christie’s death, she penned it well before its publication, somewhere about the mid-1940s to early 1950s then held onto it for posthumous release. In reality, Sleeping Murder is a mid-series book while Nemesis is the real end of Marple’s series. Published two years after Hallowe’en Party, Nemesis features similar underpinnings and literary padding techniques but is a far more sound book – I believe – in part because the correct detective is at the helm.
Either way, whether you think Hallowe’en Party a padded Poirot short story, based on the Sleeping Murder or a practice run for Nemesis I think this quote from Hallowe’en Party sums the book up best, “The past is the father of the present…” (pg. 128).
Check out my other fiction blog: Finder Of Lost Things! This week Beatrice is “helping” Phoebe out!