Sunday, November 30, 2014

Agatha Christie's Misfire

All I know about the publication of Agatha Christie's "Hallowe'en Party" is that it was published in November 1969.

I don't know the exact date, but I suspect the book was published closer to the beginning of November (and, consequently, closer to Hallowe'en itself). Perhaps such timing would have helped. By 1969, Agatha Christie was nearly 80, and her writing engine seemed to be running out of gas. "Hallowe'en Party" was disappointing when compared to her earlier works. The plot wasn't bad, but the telling of it was weak and a bit inefficient for Christie.

The book matched Christie's most popular detective, Hercule Poirot, with Christie's caricature of herself, Ariadne Oliver. Ariadne was a rather eccentric sort, a celebrated writer who was averse to publicity, fond of apples, a teetotaler. Poirot described her as having an "original if untidy mind" — the ideal complement to Poirot's tidy gray cells.

If opposites attract, Hercule and Ariadne were a match made in heaven; in fact, I have often wondered why Christie wrote about Ariadne so seldom. Ariadne appeared in roughly half a dozen Agatha Christie books. She was an old friend of Poirot's — hence, nearly all of her appearances were in books that featured him prominently, although I think there was one book in which Oliver was featured as a sort of tangential character, but Poirot was not part of it.

Readers of "Hallowe'en Party" could be forgiven for thinking Poirot would not play a role in this one, either — at least, at first. In "Hallowe'en Party," Ariadne happened to be present when, while preparing for a Hallowe'en party, a 13–year–old girl related that she had witnessed a murder once but only recently had come to realize that it was a murder she had seen.

Not long thereafter, the girl was found dead — drowned in an apple–bobbing bucket — and Ariadne called on her old friend to solve the murder. Considering what she had heard from the girl herself, Ariadne was concerned that the murder might have been prompted by the girl's revelation.

It was a missed opportunity in many ways. At a time when many were examining the so–called "generation gap," it was a chance to remind readers that such a gap has always existed. It was an opportunity to examine the logic (or lack thereof) of teenagers, but, by the time Christie wrapped it up, "Hallowe'en Party" was still loaded with loose ends and characters who seemed promising at first but sort of fizzled out.

Well, Christie was nearing the end of her life, and she had written so many excellent books that I suppose she could be excused for making the occasional misfire.