In her autobiography, Agatha Christie wrote: ‘I had written this book because it was so difficult to do that the idea had fascinated me. Ten people had to die without it becoming ridiculous or the murderer being obvious. I wrote the book after a tremendous amount of planning, and I was pleased whit what I had made of it. It was clear, straightforward, baffling, and yet had a perfectly reasonable explanation; in fact it had to have an epilogue in order to explain it. It was well received and reviewed, but the person who was really pleased with it was myself, for I knew better than any critic how difficult it has been.’
The title of this book refers to a nursery rhyme (Ten Little Indians). Ten people, most of them unknown to each other, have been lured by some Mr. U. N. Owen to an isolated mansion, either with the promise of an attractive salary or just to enjoy a free holiday; an offer none of them can reject. The mansion is placed in a deserted island near the coast of Devon in England. All the guests are surprised when, on arrival, their host is not there, he just apologizes for not being present. But after an excellent dinner, every one is in high spirits. Then suddenly a recorded message (per Mr. Owen’s earlier, written instructions) accuses each of them of a crime for which they were never punished. When the first minutes of tension have passed they realise that none of them have ever met Mr. U. N. Owen, a code name for ‘Unknown’. Who is hidden behind that name? What it looks like a macabre joke ends up being a terrifying and distressing nightmare when the first of them dies. One by one are being killed following the lyrics of the nursery rhyme.
And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Niggers) was written during the Second World War, while Agatha Christie was working as hospital dispenser. With over 100 million sales to date it is the world’s best-selling mystery ever. It has been adapted into several plays, films, and video games (from various sources including Wikipedia).
John Currant, author of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, considers And Then There Were None (1939) one of The top 10 Agatha Christie mysteries. ‘A perfect combination of thriller and detective story, this plot is much-copied Christie’s Greatest Technical Achievement.’
Even without the novelty and the elements of surprise, we cannot forget that it was first published in book form in 1939, And Then There Were None still provides a very pleasant reading. Both for the beauty of its prose and as a portrait of an era. The reader can easily enter the game and will enjoy the book if he gets caught by the atmosphere in which the plot evolves. It has a clever ending that will test the sharpness of the reader.
And Then There Were None (1939)
Harper Collins Agatha Christie Signature Edition, 2007
Number of pages: 320