Ever had a bite at a nice red juicy apple and there, down by the core, something rather nasty rears itself up and wags its head at you?

Those damned apples!They’re Aridane’ Oliver’s weak spot, and in this story, bobbing for apples is a dangerous game.

This is the third time I’ve read Hallowe’en Party, and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book, much more than on my previous reads. It;s one of those books that dwells on details and contains a lot of humor that is somewhat pushed aside when reading the mystery for the sake of finding out who did what.

‘Do you know what you sound like?’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘A computer. You know. You’re programming yourself. That’s what they call it, isn’t it? I mean you’re feeding all these things into yourself all day and then you’re going to see what comes out.’

‘It is certainly an idea you have there,’ said Poirot, with some interest. ‘Yes, yes, I play the part of the computer. One feeds in the information—’

‘And supposing you come up with all the wrong answers?’ said Mrs Oliver.

‘That would be impossible,’ said Hercule Poirot. ‘Computers do not do that sort of a thing.’

‘They’re not supposed to,’ said Mrs Oliver, ‘but you’d be surprised at the things that happen sometimes. My last electric light bill, for instance. I know there’s a proverb which says “To err is human,” but a human error is nothing to what a computer can do if it tries.

Of course, the mystery in Hallowe’en Party is pretty good, too, even tho the underlying crime and motive are a bit pedestrian. But then, most of Christie’s books follow a similar pattern in that the motive is almost always … well, that would be spoiling it, wouldn’t it?

The book relies almost entirely on the perception of relationships, the figuring out of which kept me guessing until the very end.

I am also enjoying something that was brought up in the Agathytes thread the other day: the Christie was also a chronicler of her time. In her time, this is probably unintentional, but it does happen. I’m under the impression that her older characters bemoaning the modern times and hankering back to the old days is a way of dealing with the changes brought on by time passing. Some characters deal with it better than others, but they are all of their time.

What stands out in this one is the repeated observation about the changes in the criminal justice system and the abolition of capital punishment in Britain (it had been suspended in 1965 but was abolished in 1969 – when this book was published).

This is one of the books where the mystery is fairly pedestrian, but I think the context provided by the characters – be it social commentary or Shakespearean atmosphere (The Tempest drips off the page for me in this one) is marvellous.

Ariadne Oliver is on top form.

Mrs Oliver, removing herself from the main group, leant against a vacant background of wall and held up a large yellow pumpkin, looking at it critically—’The last time I saw one of these,’ she said, sweeping back her grey hair from her prominent forehead, ‘was in the United States last year—hundreds of them. All over the house. I’ve never seen so many pumpkins. As a matter of fact,’ she added thoughtfully, ‘I’ve never really known the difference between a pumpkin and a vegetable marrow. What’s this one?’

What is it with Christie and vegetable marrows?

I must admit that I actually like Ariadne more than Poirot at times, and in this story she gets plenty of page time. She’s scatty, but loveable. She’s such an antidote to Poirot who can sometimes seem a bit condescending. For all of Poirot’s self-assuredness, Ariadne, tho confident, allows for doubt and alternative possibilities.

I still sometimes think she would have made a great main character if Christie had only allowed herself to write a book dedicated to whimsy.

But to everything that happens there has to be a past. A past which is by now incorporated in today, but which existed yesterday or last month or last year. The present is nearly always rooted in the past.

4* (out of 5*)