I had a problem with Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and it has nothing to do with the novel or Christie’s craftsmanship. Instead, it has to do with my own unwillingness to abide by the rules of the mystery/crime genre. From the get-go, Christie is clear that the 10 characters who go to Soldier Island are the only 10 characters that will be on the island throughout the novel. One of these characters also happens to be a killer who is slowly knocking off each other character one by one. However, throughout the novel I simply assumed that the killer was not one of the ten and instead was somehow coming to and from a boat to kill them. Hence, I missed most of the suspense and thrill of And Then There Were None. Unfortunately, now that I’ve read the end, I can’t go back and start over because I already know who the villain is. This just goes to show me that the mystery/crime novel genre is probably not the one for me because I have a hard time buying into the genre’s conventions.
Christie’s novel is a masterpiece though. Even though I’m not a fan of the genre, by the end of And Then There Were None, it is easy to see just how carefully put together the whole narrative is. If you are a much more careful reader than I am, you might be able to pick out the killer and solve the crimes even before you finish, but doing so would be quite amazing because Christie is very careful to cover her tracks efficiently. The central hook in this story is that each of the 10 characters has a shady past that none is willing to openly talk about. It quickly becomes clear that they have all committed murder but within the boundaries of law. For example, one character knows that he will be sending a man to his doom during the war, but does so anyways, while a second character refuses to have a pregnant single girl in her house and sends her out into the cold night without any mercy. The killer, then, is motivated by some kind of sense of seeking justice outside of the law. This plot setup makes for wonderful tension between the characters as each suspects the other of being the villain. Of course, if I had bought into Christie`s setup, it would have been that much more tense.
Christie utilises a third-person limited viewpoint but allows readers to experience different characters’ thoughts throughout the narrative. This is a very effective technique to flesh out the tension of the plot, but it also quite effective at covering up who the real killer is because that will not be revealed until the final pages of the novel itself. In these pages, the killer confesses their crimes and carefully explains how everything was accomplished so that it is almost as if Christie takes readers by the hands and leads us through the plot. It was at this point that I realized my mistake and regretted my unwillingness to suspend belief.
On a weird sidenote that came up as I was looking for a cover image, apparently this book was first published as Ten Little Niggers in the U.K. When it was published in the US, it was re-titled And Then There Were None although a number of editions were also titled Ten Little Indians. Talk about politically incorrect rhymes/titles!
I would recommend And Then There Were None to fans of crime fiction because it is an outstanding mystery plot. But if you don’t enjoy this genre, it’s probably not worth your time.
Christie, Agatha. And Then There Were None. 1939. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004. Print.