“But no artist, I now realize, can be satisfied with art alone. There is a natural craving for recognition which cannot be gain-said.”
There is perhaps no mystery author as beloved and admired as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. She wrote 66 mystery novels in her career, with many memorable plots, characters, and endings. But for many people, her 1939 novel And Then There Were None is her masterpiece. It's unfathomable mystery and shocking end have made it not only the best-selling mystery novel of all time, but also one of the top selling of all books.
Ten people have arrived at a private island on the coast of Devonshire. Some have been invited as guests, others as employees, of the owners. But none have ever met them. Upon arrival, they find that their hosts/employers have not yet arrived. Though the house is a modern mansion, they notice odd little things like a framed "Ten Little Indians" poem on each bedroom wall and corresponding Indian figurines on the dining room table. After dinner, the butler plays a record (per written instructions) that accuses each person of having committed murder but evaded justice. All are shocked and dismayed, but insist they are innocent.
Then the deaths begin. One by one, guests are being killed in ways to reflect the deaths in the bedroom poem. The others search the island for the killer, but soon realize that he/she must be among them. As the murders continue, each survivor struggles to decide who they can and cannot trust.
My Review (Caution - Spoilers):
Though I am familiar with many of Agatha Christie's stories, this is only the second book I have read. Unlike The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, this particular novel does not involve a specific detective.
This mystery is fast paced and very intriguing. From the first moment we are asking questions, and they don't stop anytime soon. Who are the owners of the island? What is their purpose in bringing the guests to the island? Are the guests really guilty of murder? Who is doing the killing? Christie sucks us in from the very beginning and never lets up. The growing panic and confusion among the guests transfers to the reader creating a rather intense reading experience. It is the smart reader indeed who can explain the mystery before Christie's big reveal.
I thought the use of the poem in the murders was clever, and in some ways increased the tension as you waited for the next inevitable murder. Of course, this also decreases the suspense somewhat as we know how many people are supposed to die as well as the way they die. I also felt that the explanation, while clever (and similar to the surprise of Ackroyd), was also rather convenient in some places. There just didn't seem to be enough time for the killer to complete some of these murders without being caught. But though these thoughts were in the back of my mind, it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the novel.
It is clear that nobody writes crime like Agatha Christie. Her storytelling is tight, her plots are brilliant, and her endings are surprising. If you have never tried a Christie novel, And Then There Were None is a great place to start. It is no wonder that it remains popular with readers the world over.
There is a 1945 adaptation starring Walter Huston, C. Aubrey Smith, and Judith Anderson. I haven't seen it, but I love these actors and will definitely try to see it soon.