Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Horror Of...Halloween Night, Agatha Christie's Poirot - Hallowe'en Party, Mystery By Night

Halloween is ever a time of spooks and goblins. Even the pranksters and the tricksters love to come out to play. But sometimes, the murderers also get out. And we cannot have that, can we?

At times like that you want the sharpest minds and eyes at work. Through the falling leaves, the rapid dusk, and along the forgotten paths, the sleuths will make things right.

So today let's enjoy the efforts of one such sleuth. Hercule Poirot. Drawn out in the wake of a Halloween tragedy in...

Agatha Christie's "Hallowe'en Party".

But to start let's look at the opening credits of the show. They weren't still in use when this episode was made, but I've always enjoyed them and they help slip you into this period in history.

We open on a night so perfect for Halloween. Dark, windy, with lightning and rain in the air. Not perfect for going out to Trick or Treat, but fine for a children's party.

And the house is a buzz with kids running around, and enjoying the fun being put on by the adults, and have they are finding for themselves. The adults just try and catch their breaths, trying to supervise the rambunctious lot all.

Among them is Ariadne Oliver, famed mystery writer and friend to one Hercule Poirot. She is not enjoying the experience at all. She was visiting to give a lecture, but now she's been dragged into a children's party, and she is coming down with a dreadful cold.

She is being put to use aggressively by Ms. Rowena Drake, who owns the large home being used for the party. Ariadne is being assisted by Ms. Judith Butler, who is also hosting Ariadne while she is in the area.

The cold she has is likely something she picked up from Miranda, Butler's daughter. She isn't at the party as she is still in bed, recovering from her illness

Despite all of this,Ariadne is trying to keep herself going, as the night runs on. Even enjoying the apples brought in for a game of Bobbing for Apples later in the night. (Really, folks. Do kids today still get to do this? Did it continue passed my youth? I must know.)

And the place has a collection of guests, including the children and their parents. They also have the requisite vicar and local school teacher in attendance.

As the night goes on, Ms. Drake is trying to get her kids spurred to help out with the young ones. Frances is enjoying some drinks and Edmund is obsessively reading some Poe.

Games are played and stories are told. And the apple bobbing.

But in the background Mrs. Reynolds is puttering around, trying to clean up and feel useful. She can't keep still, feeling ill at ease.

"No. I don't want to read the fan fiction you wrote based on my books."

In the midst of the frivolity, a young girl starts a conversation with Ariadne. A excitable and awkward girl named Joyce Reynolds. She asks about her writing, her foreign detective character, her money, etc.

Then she announces that she once saw a murder when she was young. No one believes her. And then people start taunting her.

She wants to be taken seriously, but the adults try to change the subject. Her brother, Leopold, suggests she is a liar.

Meanwhile, in London Hercule Poirot is trying to enjoy a quiet night. But the radio is playing out a macabre tale. It doesn't amuse Poirot. He lectures his valet that with the evil in the world, it is wrong to make light of death and murder. He's seen and experienced death enough to know it shouldn't be seen as fun.

Poirot reminds him that in Belgium this is the time of the year you light candles and remember those that you have lost. It's not a time of frivolity.

Back at the party the games and frivolity continue.

Then, suddenly, a witch bursts in the house, eager to read the fortunes of those present. This is Mrs. Goodbody. And she wasn't invited, so Ms. Drake quickly escorts her from the party.

Ms. Drake now starts up a game of Snapdragons. I have never heard of this before this story. And it is something to see.

The idea is you soak some fruit in alcohol (usually raisins) and then you place them on a plate. You turn down the lights, and light the fruit on fire.


And then the kids all reach in to carefully grab up the treats to eat. All the while they chant, "Snip. Snap. Dragon."

Okay, now. Is this a game? Is this real? I struggle to imagine parents letting their kids stick their hands in fire. There is a trick to it, but still. I can't imagine this being played today...

...except at a frat house. I could see that.

But soon the game ends, and Ms. Drake announces an end to the party. Time to go home.

So they begin gathering the kids, to be sure no one is hiding or playing in the cloak room, or elsewhere in the house.

And then someone is found elsewhere in the house.

Young Joyce.

Dead among the apples. Murdered.

Ariadne calls, and Poirot races to help.

That night Joyce openly bragged of a murder she had once seen, but never revealed before. And now she is dead. Are they connected? If so, who was murdered before? And who is the murderer? And if it is all unconnected, why would someone target and kill this little girl?

There is much darkness for Poirot to unravel. There will be no frivolity for Poirot here.

Generally, I don't think this is seen as one of Poirot's or Christie's best mysteries. But it does offer some October mystery and dread. Back to the small country parish. The local secrets and history. The old scores and troubles. Hidden agendas.

All in a day for Monsieur Poirot.

And that opening at the party is a great step back in time for us all to enjoy this Halloween.

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