I wanted to read all of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels in order, and I was well on my way to doing just that — until last week, when I realized that I had inadvertently skipped a book. The last Christie book I read was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, which should have been followed by Murder is Easy. But I mistakenly loaded And Then There Were None into my PDA instead, and was three-quarters of the way through the book before I realized what happened. So I’ll just proceed with my review of this novel and catch Murder is Easy the next time around.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): The novel opens with very brief introductions to several characters who will figure prominently in the main plot. We see that all of the characters are traveling to the same place, and that all were invited there by the same person, a Mr. Owen. It is soon revealed that the characters are headed to Indian Island, a privately-owned island off the Devon coast that has historically been used as the sight of elegant, lavish parties.
Once everyone assembles on the island, we see that there are eight invited guests (Anthony Marston, General John MacArthur, Emily Brent, Vera Claythorne, Justice Wargrave, Dr. Edward Armstrong, William Blore, and Phillip Lombard), plus a married couple (Mr. and Mrs. Rogers) acting as servants to the entire party, for a total of 10 people. Each guest is shown to his or her room, and they all notice that they have the same framed nursery rhyme on the wall:
Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late; one overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon; one said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks; one chopped his own self in halves and then there were six.
Six little Indian boys playing with a hive; a bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Indian boys going in for law; one got into Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Indian boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two little Indian boys were out in the sun; one got all frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Indian boy left all alone; he went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
The guests don’t know what to make of the rhyme, but since it’s time for dinner, they don’t give it much thought.
Everyone starts feeling a little uncomfortable when Mr. Owen, their host, doesn’t show up for dinner. But they eat and make small talk as best they can. Then, after dinner, they hear a message played over a gramophone that says each person in the house was guilty of murder, despite the fact that they probably wouldn’t be found guilty in a court of law. The message, titled “Swan Song,” by the way, goes on to list the crime attributed to each person.
Before the guests can really figure out what’s going on, Anthony Marston starts choking on his drink and dies seconds later. That’s when the guests realize they’ve been lured into a trap — with absolutely no way to get out.
The rest of the novel then shows the guests being murdered one by one in the ways specified in the nursery rhyme. The killer must be on the island somewhere, but thorough searches reveal nothing. Later on, the authorities arrive at the island and discover 10 dead bodies but no trace of an eleventh person. So how did this happen? There’s no way I’m revealing the answer here!
My Reaction: Out of all the Christie books I’ve heard of before I started reading them, And Then There Were None had to be the most talked about. This is often mentioned not only as the best Christie book of all time (and most popular, with over 100 million copies sold), but perhaps as the best mystery book of all time. Yes, there was a ton of hype surrounding this book — and let me tell you, it lived up to my expectations!
And Then There Were None was markedly different from other Christie books in that there was no detective and no investigation into the murders. We just see the main characters getting picked off one by one in mysterious, grisly ways. We know it has to be someone on the island, but there’s no one else there. Is it one of the ten? That seems like the next plausible argument, but Christie does her best to shoot that theory down, too.
This book was a page-turner in every sense! I couldn’t put it down, and blasted through it faster than I’ve read anything in a long time. I was hooked from start to finish, and I was entertained (as well as baffled) throughout. Moreover, the solution to the crime was satisfactory — even clever. I wasn’t disappointed one bit here!
Overall, I thought And Then There Were None was just about as perfect a mystery novel as I’ve ever read. It was completely new and innovative when it was first published (no one had written anything like it before), but the formula has been copied again and again since then. Nevertheless, it was very cool to read the book that started it all, and I give Christie’s masterpiece 10 stars out of 10 — my first perfect rating!