Is there such a thing as the perfect murder? How about 10 of them? You’ll think so after reading “And Then There Were None” (1939) by Agatha Christie.
Ten people receive invitations to a remote getaway called Indian Island. The reasons they are invited vary: some are offered employment or professional consultation, others a chance for holiday, others a reunion with old friends, and some a bit of cloak-and-dagger skullduggery.
Altogether, they make a strange assemblage with their different backgrounds and personalities. There are the butler and his wife, a general, a teacher, a doctor, a rich young man, a spinster, a soldier, a judge, and a former police inspector.
When they arrive at the modern-looking house on the island and find their assigned rooms, they discover hanging in each bedroom an old nursery rhyme called “Ten Little Indians” and that there are ten china Indian figurines on the dining room table.
They soon perceive that none of them know the person who issued the invites, but this person accuses every one of them of murder most foul.
Then they start dying … one … by … one …
Are they accidents? Are they suicides? As each person dies, one of the little Indian figurines disappears. The guests realize there is a killer amongst them. But how could someone be hiding in the house on a bare rock?
Agatha Christie reportedly said this was the most difficult of her books to write and it’s easy to see why.
Tensely suspenseful and well-plotted, “And Then There Were None” gives the reader a real brain-teaser. The cast of disparate individuals have but one thing in common: murder. They all have diverse opinions on what’s happening and who is causing it, which helps the reader figure out the culprit not one bit.
The twists and turns back-track on each other quite cleverly until you think you need a scorecard to keep up with who is dead, let alone who could have committed the murders.
I had read “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” a while back and was not as impressed. “Styles” was Christie’s first published book in 1920 and she upped her game quite a bit after nearly 30 books in almost two decades. Some of her better known books are “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” “The Murder at the Vicarage,” “Murder on the Orient Express” and “The Mirror Crack’d.” She also wrote plays, most notably “The Mousetrap,” which opened in 1952 and is still running as of late 2019.
Known as the “Queen of Crime,” Agatha Christie’s books have been outsold only by the Holy Bible and the works of William Shakespeare. This is the gem of Christie’s writing crown as far as plot and mystery.
“And Then There Were None” is widely regarded to be the world’s best-selling mystery, with more than 100 million copies sold. It’s said to be the sixth best-selling title of all time.
There are some caveats, however.
Since this book was written in the 1930s and by a British author, modern readers may have a problem with some of the language, which has changed a bit in nearly a century and crossing the big pond. The word “queer” is heavily used; it was a favorite word of many British authors of that time. For example, there’s “… he was a queer chap. Not straight. He’d swear the man wasn’t straight.” In context, more suspicious of motivation than orientation.
There’s also a fair bit of racist language.
“Christie’s work is not known for its racial sensitivity, and by modern standards her oeuvre is rife with casual Orientalism,” wrote Sadie Stein, a freelance writer, for the Paris Review (theparisreview.org) in 2016.
This book has been published under at least three titles, and there are three versions of the poem. The name of the island also changes, along with the title of the poem. The first title used in the U.K. is unprintable here. Because that title was considered to be too offensive in the United States, the book was published in America in 1940 as “And Then There Were None,” which is the last line of the poem in all three versions. The book has also been printed under the title “Ten Little Indians.” There is a version of the poem titled “Ten Little Soldier Boys.”
If you can look beyond the racist language, “And Then There Were None” is a great mystery novel that will have you asking “Whodunit?!” to the very end.
For more information on Agatha Christie (1890-1976), her writing, the characters she created, and her life, which contained some mystery of its own, visit agathachristie.com online or read one of the biographies written about her.