Halloween Special: What the Witch Knows

the book:

Halloween Party by Agatha Christie

published 1969     chapter 1

One of the most popular contests, at any rate among the girls, was the arrival of the Halloween witch played by Mrs Goodbody, a local cleaning woman who, not only having the necessary hooked nose and chin which almost me, was admirably proficient in producing a semi-cooing voice which had definitely sinister undertones and also produced magical doggerel rhymes.

“Now then, come along. Beatrice, is it? Ah, Beatrice. A very interesting name. Now you want to know hat your husband is going to look like. Now, my dear, sit here. Yes, yes, under this light here. Sit here and hold this little mirror in your hand, and presently when the lights go out you’ll see him appear. You’ll see him looking over your shoulder. Now hold the mirror steady. Abracadabra, who shall see? The face of the man who will marry me. Beatrice, Beatrice, you shall find, the face of the man who shall please your mind.”

observations: Agatha Christie was interested in witches: the idea of them (at least) features in several books, and in The Pale Horse there is an extended discussion. Miss Marple tells us in Nemesis her views on the staging of Macbeth, how the witches should look like normal old women, but with a faint air of menace.

This witch does not predict which of the girls is going to die shortly…

The party itself is quite hard to picture. The age range is from 10 to 17 (though it’s also described as an 11-plus party for those about to go to new schools), and there is a fairly relaxed claim that teenage parties (though clearly not this one which – murder apart – is very respectable) might feature drugs such as LSD or pot. A couple are caught snogging: the boy is 15, the girl 12. The adult hostess’s friends (and a houseguest in the shape of Ariadne Oliver) have all come to help. It all sounds extremely unlikely, but whether that is because we are the wrong age and class, or because no such party ever took place, is hard to decide.

The recent TV version of this one took the usual liberties with the plot (including apparently moving it back in time to the 1950s), but did do a spooky atmosphere very well. The book has a very strange and disturbing atmosphere, but it seems quite separate from Halloween, which doesn’t really feature once the murder is done and we can get on with finding clues.

Links up with: Other Halloween Special entries this week.
The Pale Horse featured a spooky séance. Men having their fortunes told here and here.

The picture is another of the Halloween
greeting cards held by the New York Public Library.


  1. One of my favourite AC books, but then I like anything with Ariadne Oliver in. Great picture, a bit Wizard of Oz like.

  2. Moira - I'm so glad you featured this one. You're right that the holiday doesn't have much to do with the murder mystery, but I really liked the discussion of those old beliefs in the novel. And I love Ariadne Oliver's comment about the house where the party is held: It doesn't look the sort of house there'd be a murder in, does it? Such an interesting contrast, I thought. Oh, and I agree completely about the adaptation!

  3. Thanks both of you - I like this one, though I have read it several times and the solution always comes as a surprise! But it is nicely dark... Yes, I like Ariadne Oliver too, she always adds to a book.

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