‘And Then There Were None’ by Agatha Christie

Ten strangers, apparently with little in common, are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon by a mysterious host.

They sit down for dinner and a record begins to play. The voice of their host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret. By the end of the night one of them will be dead.

Stranded by a violent storm, they begin to die – one by one.

This was my first time reading ‘And Then There Were None’. All I knew about it was that it is a favourite with many Christie readers and that its original title was dropped because it was racist, although it hadn’t even raised an eyebrow when it was published in 1939.

By the time I was three chapters in, I was a little stunned to see that Agatha Christie seems to have been the first to come up with the ten-strangers-invited-to-an-island-by-someone-they-don’t-know-and-get-killed-one-by-one-in-bizarre-ways premise. It’s been used many times since, sometimes with a remote country house or a penthouse apartment, or a party in a castle but still using the same conceit.

Apart from the racist language and the built-in imperialist attitudes, ‘And Then There Were None’ felt fresh and modern.

It seems to me that it was an experimental book for Christie. The was no amateur sleuth to untangle the mystery, no international criminal conspiracy driving the action. Just ten people being killed one by one by an unseen hand. The story borders more on horror than mystery as each killing increases the terror and despair of the survivors, each of whom is hiding a secret that feeds their guilt. The storytelling style is novel, especially in the way the denouement is handled.

I thought the experiment was successful in building an atmosphere of claustrophobic terror and in keeping the reader guessing about how the whole thing was being managed and by whom. The resolution was clever and almost impossibly complicated but I was happy to roll with it for its bravado and its novelty. For the most part, the book was a page-turning thriller.

Not everything about the experiment worked as well as it should have. I didn’t believe in the penultimate death, driven by mental manipulation that I found too insubstantial to be believable. I didn’t like the way the denouement was handled. I understand why the story was told that way but I felt the story lost momentum and the big reveal, rather than being the last dramatic flourish of a magician astounding me with her trick, became a slightly laboured documentary explaining how the trick worked.

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