The murder of Colonel Protheroe — shot through the head — is a shock to everyone in St Mary Mead, though hardly an unpleasant one. Now even the vicar, who had declared that killing the detested Protheroe would be ‘doing the world at large a favour,’ is a suspect — the Colonel has been dispatched in the clergyman’s study, no less. But the picturesque English village of St Mary Mead is overpopulated with suspects. There is of course the faithless Mrs Protheroe; and there is of course her young lover — an artist, to boot.
Perhaps more surprising than the revelation of the murderer is the detective who will crack the case: ‘a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner.’ Miss Jane Marple has arrived on the scene, and crime literature’s private men’s club of great detectives will never be the same.
Mystery writer Ariadne Oliver has been invited to a Hallowe’en party at Woodleigh Common. One of the other guests is an adolescent girl known for telling tall tales of murder and intrigue — and for being generally unpleasant.
But when the girl, Joyce, is found drowned in an apple-bobbing tub, Mrs Oliver wonders after the fictional nature of the girl’s claim that she had once witnessed a murder. Which of the party guests wanted to keep her quiet is a question for Ariadne’s friend Hercule Poirot.
But unmasking a killer this Hallowe’en is not going to be easy — for there isn’t a soul in Woodleigh who believes the late little storyteller was actually murdered.
Nurse Amy Leatheran had never felt the lure of the ‘mysterious East,’ but she nonetheless accepts an assignment at Hassanieh, an ancient site deep in the Iraqi desert, to care for the wife of a celebrated archaeologist.
Mrs Leidner is suffering bizarre visions and nervous terror.
‘I’m afraid of being killed!’ she admits to her nurse.
Her terror, unfortunately, is anything but unfounded, and Nurse Leatheran is soon enough without a patient.
The world’s greatest detective happens to be in the vicinity, however: having concluded an assignment in Syria, and curious about the dig at Hassanieh, Hercule Poirot arrives in time to lead a murder investigation that will tax even his remarkable powers — and in a part of the world that has seen more than its share of misadventure and foul play.