Saturday, October 22, 2011

Halloween Party

The novel features her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and the mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver. The novel focuses on child murder (with its possible sexual motivation), the irresponsibility of teenagers and the crisis in crime and punishment. This book was dedicated to P.G. Wodehouse.
The story starts out inside Rowena Drake's house, which is called "Apple Trees". There, Ariadne Oliver and others are preparing a Hallowe'en party for children. Those in charge of the party are Judith Butler, Mrs. Oliver's friend; Leopold, Joyce and Anne Reynolds, Desmond Holland, Nicholas Ransom, Cathie Johnson, Elizabeth Whittaker, Beatrice Ardley, and others. While they are preparing, thirteen-year old Joyce Reynolds says that she once saw a murder. Everyone, including Mrs. Oliver, thinks she is lying.
The party consists of many Hallowe'en-related activities. Mrs. Goodbody plays the role of a witch, and girls can look into a mirror to know what their future husbands will look like (a picture of the husband is said to be reflected in the mirror). The group has supper, the prizes are granted, and the party ends after a game of snapdragon, with the murder of course fitting into the whole situation.

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The next day, Mrs. Oliver goes to London seeking Hercule Poirot's help. She tells him that after snapdragon, Joyce went missing and was later found drowned in an apple-bobbing tub in the library. Mrs. Oliver repeats to Poirot Joyce's comment that she had once witnessed a murder; Mrs. Oliver now wonders if Joyce might have been telling the truth, which might provide someone with a motive for killing her.

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Poirot goes to Apple Trees to interview Rowena Drake. Rowena doesn't believe Joyce's murder story; rather, she thinks it was just Joyce's attempt to impress Mrs. Oliver. Next to be interviewed are the Reynoldses. Mrs. Reynolds can't say that Joyce ever told her that she saw a murder. Leopold, Joyce's younger brother, doesn't believe that Joyce saw a murder either, but he did hear Joyce telling everyone about it. Ann, Joyce's older sister, doesn't believe either that Joyce had seen a murder; she says Joyce was a liar and a fraud.
Hercule Poirot asks his old friend, an ex-superintendent named Spence, to give him a list of murders which had taken place years before and that could possibly be the murder that Joyce claimed to have witnessed. Spence obliges: Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe, the aunt of Rowena Drake's late husband, apparently died of a heart attack. Her death is suspicious because a codicil to her will was discovered afterwards. Authorities believe that the codicil was faked by an au pair girl, Olga Seminoff, who disappeared after the forgery was discovered. Other candidate murders involve Charlotte Benfield, a sixteen-year-old shop assistant found dead of multiple head injuries, with two young men under suspicion; Lesley Ferrier, a lawyer's clerk who was stabbed in the back; and Janet White, a schoolteacher who was strangled. Hercule Poirot thinks Janet White's murder is the most probable candidate for the murder Joyce witnessed, because strangulation might not appear at first sight to be murder.

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Hercule Poirot continues his investigation by interviewing Dr. Ferguson, who tells Poirot that Joyce was once his patient. When Poirot goes Elms School, he is greeted by the headmistress, Miss Emlyn. Meanwhile, a mathematics teacher named Elizabeth Whittaker, who was also present at the party, gives Hercule Poirot an important piece of evidence when she reveals that while the party-goers were playing Snapdragon, Elizabeth went out to hall and saw Rowena Drake coming out of the lavatory on the first floor landing. Rowena stood for a moment before coming downstairs, looking startled by something or someone she may have seen in the open door of the library, and then dropped the flower vase she was holding. Other suggestive pieces of evidence include the fact that Lesley Ferrier had previously been suspected of forgery. Were Lesley and Olga working together to secure Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe's inheritance? Poirot visits a sunken garden built for Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe in an abandoned quarry, where he meets Michael Garfield, the handsome and talented young man who designed the garden. While there, he also meets Judith Butler's daughter, Miranda Butler, a striking young girl who is close to Michael and spends a great deal of time in the Quarry Garden. Mrs. Drake meets Poirot at his guest house to tell him that Leopold Reynolds, Joyce's younger brother, has been drowned. Poirot reveals that Leopold had been blackmailing Joyce's murderer and had got in over his head. Mrs. Drake, obviously very upset by Leopold's death, admits that she saw Leopold in the library, which caused her to think he might have killed his sister.

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