I did read all of Agatha Christie's novels when I was a teenager, including this one, and I watched the ITV dramatisation a few years back, but I still couldn't remember who the villain was, so I decided to read this one again as part of my Halloween Reads.
This is a Poirot story, one of the later ones - written and set in the late 1960s - a fact I hadn't appreciated until I reached the line: 'The younger one was wearing a rose-coloured velvet coat, mauve trousers and a kind of frilled shirting.' Helping Poirot solve the mystery is his friend Ariadne Oliver, a crime writer - and one of my favourite Christie characters - I wish she'd had a series of her own!
The story starts with Ariadne going to stay with a new friend, Judith Butler, whom she met on a Greek cruise. Judith is a widow with a young daughter, Miranda. Also living in the village is the incredibly bossy Rowena Drake, who is organising a Halloween party for all the children. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as it turns out) Miranda is unable to attend because she is ill, but Ariadne still goes along to help. The descriptions of the various games brought back a few memories of the Halloween parties I went to as a child! I'd never liked apple bobbling - with good reason, as it turns out, because during this party thirteen-year-old Joyce is murdered by having her head shoved into the apple bobbing bucket. Why Joyce? Well, earlier she had been trying to impress Ariadne by telling her how she had once witnessed a murder, although 'I didn't know it was a murder when I saw it.' Of course, no one believes Joyce, because she is known for being a liar...
The story is mostly told from the point of view of Ariadne and Poirot. Once the murder has taken place, each chapter concentrates on a different suspect, very much like the game of Cluedo. You have to concentrate hard to remember what each person has said and pick out the clues from the red herrings - a style of crime fiction I've never much cared for, because it can feel a bit repetitive.
I worked out the villain without too much effort, although there were a few clever twists I didn't see coming! And I did enjoy the story - I'd forgotten how funny Christie could be - but I don't think I'll be rushing to re-read any more.