I realize it is a little past the season for stories that revolve around Halloween parties, but I didn’t have time to get to this book before Halloween this year and I didn’t feel obligated to wait another year before I read it. This Agatha Christie classic, the 39th book in her repertoire, features the famous Hercule Poirot who is called in after a disturbing murder at said party, which takes place in the opening chapters.
Poirot’s old friend, Ariadne Oliver, who appears earlier in Dead Man’s Folly, appeals to Poirot for help when a young girl is murdered at the party she is attending. Mrs. Oliver is a famous mystery author, and I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps the character was a bit of an author self-insert for Dame Christie as she talked theories of the case with the detective, and even did a bit of interrogation on her own.
Joyce Reynolds, a thirteen year old girl who is universally regarded as a compulsive liar, claims to have witnessed a murder in the past. She is brushed off by her audience, a group of party-preppers as well as her peer group, as having simply made a bid for attention. However, things take a nasty turn when she is found dead, drowned in the bucket using for bobbing for apples at the end of the festivities.
Numerous suspects are soon identified, including a couple of local school teachers, a couple of presumed forgers, now supposedly dead or missing, and a landscape gardener who lives in the garden he created for a local rich widow, whose disputed will following her death two years earlier provides the first leads in the case.
The party that sets the scene is at the home of Rowena Drake, the niece of the late Mrs. Llewllyn-Smythe, who stood to benefit in Llewellyn-Smythe’s will before the last codicil (amendment) was uncovered. She is also found to have ties to the gardener, and one of the perceived forgers who was also the late lady’s au pair. However, Mrs. Drake is a respected member of society; a leader of charity groups; and her daughter was the best friend of the late Joyce Reynolds. What secrets does she really hold? It takes the shock of another murder before she is ready to reveal what she knows.
Another old friend, the now-retired Superintendent Spence, mentioned in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, also makes an appearance, and so this book, near the end of the series and presumably Poirot’s career, feels almost like a reunion as our intrepid detective solves the case, uncovers the true murderer, as well as his relationships to the victims, and saves the life of another.
I really enjoyed this story, with all its twists and turns, sorted affairs, and intrigue that abounds in what is reputed to be a quiet, respectable community. Christie turns everything on its head, and provides a number of false leads, leaving the reader in suspense about the culprit to the very end. I give this book five stars, and recommend it to any fan of mystery fiction.