No 674 And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

 

The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

 

 

Agatha with overlay

For some strange reason, I have never read Agatha Christie before so I can’t talk about her style, but in And Then There Were None, she doesn’t mess about.

The reader is thrown straight into this riveting tale of ten people who are invited to come to stay on Soldier Island for various reasons by a mysterious Mr Owen. The guests don’t know each other, but after dinner on the first evening, it becomes apparent that they have all be brought to the island to pay for a death that they caused but got away with. They start dying one by one in the manner of the nursery rhyme Ten Little Soldiers which hangs framed in each of their bedrooms, and with no means of escape and no one else on the island they must try and work out which one of them is the killer before it is too late.

It really is the perfect set up and an ingenious whodunit. Ten strangers who can’t trust each other, an island from which they can’t escape and a rising body count ratchet up the tension from the very beginning. The technique of the nursery rhyme, which tells the reader the order and manner of the deaths, in no way diminishes the intrigue. In fact the book is almost impossible to put down.

 Ten little soldier boys went out to dine;

One choked his little self then there were Nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late;

One overslept himself and then there were Eight.

Eight little soldier boys travelling in Devon;

One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.

Seven little soldier boys playing with a hive;

A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.

Five little soldier boys going out to sea;

A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

Three little soldier boys walking in the Zoo;

A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.

Two little soldier boys sitting in the sun;

One got frizzled up and then there was One.

One little soldier boy left all alone;

He went and hanged himself

And then there were None.

The crime is all in And Then There Were None – there is no great depth to the characters and no real exploration of their guilt or the emotional impact of what is happening to them. I don’t say this as a criticism as this is not where pleasure is to be had in this book. Rather it is the seemingly effortless storytelling, which both illuminates and misleads at the same time and the intricate plotting which means that when the killer is revealed, you want to head right back to the beginning again to see just how she pulled off such a clever sleight of hand.

And I did just that. Is it a watertight plot? Probably not. In some cases the killer was lucky that people acted as he or she hoped they would and due to the withholding of some key information right until the epilogue, I doubt if many could guess who the killer is. However, the clues are there in a subtle way and unwittingly, we are almost made aware of who the killer is from the outset.

And Then There Were None is an intriguing exploration of guilt and our ability to live with it. As one character says,

 I remember a text that hung in my nursery as a child. ‘Be sure thy sin will find thee out.’ It’s very true that. Be sure thy sin will find thee out

The victims live with their guilt in different ways, with the suggestion by the killer that there is a spectrum of guilt upon which they all sit. But it is also a study in the nature of justice and how the idea of what constitutes justice is subjective and not always bound by, or delivered by the law.

At the start of this perfect little novel, before the deaths begin, the ten decide that they will all leave the island at the earliest opportunity. One of them disagrees.

 ‘A bit unsporting, what?’ he said. ‘Ought to ferret out the mystery before we go. Whole thing’s like a detective story. Positively thrilling’.

Positively thrilling indeed.

And Then There Were 18...
And Then There Were 18…

20 Books of Summer: 2/20

Number Read: 73

Number Remaining: 673

20 Books of Summer The 746

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Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

54 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Well, you picked a good Agatha Christie novel for your first one. I’d recommend one of the Miss Marple or Poirot mysteries (one of the early ones of each). And Then There Were None was also made into a decent little film with, among others, Walter Huston and Barry Fitzgerald

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  2. Hmm I cannot remember ever reading something by Agatha Christie, this sounds like a good place to start. Great review!

    Oh another note, I hope you can make the 20 books during summer! *fingers crossed*

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  3. No wonder she’s the best selling author that she is. Interesting to hear a first reader response! I’ve made a habit of collecting her mysteries so there’s always one available for a sure read when I’m not sure what to read next 🙂
    Glad you enjoyed it [twice] and 1 more off #20booksofsummer’s list!

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  4. This was one of the first Agatha Christie novels I read and still my favourite so far. I didn’t guess who the killer was, though I would be impressed if anyone could from the information we were given!

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  5. Yes, it’s the plotting that she does so well, plus being eminently readable. I love this one, but I always enjoy the ones with one of her major detectives more – Miss Marple especially. Only another 18 to go! 😉

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  6. Have you been inspired to read more Agatha Christie? I am a huge fan and I’m currently working my way through all the Poirot books and the best bit is I can never remember who dunnit so they are great for rereading.

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  7. If this is your first Christie, you chose a treat! I still have an old battered copy with its original title. If I live long enough, one day I would like to re-read the whole of Christie in chronological order….

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  8. I have never read an Agatha Christie novel either, but have always meant to. I will look for this one if I ever get around to it. I do love the idea of a bunch of people being trapped together and not knowing who the killer is.
    I love the quote at the beginning of your post – so true!

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  9. Glad you liked it! It’s one of my favourite from her. You’re right in that there’s barely any characterisation, though considering they’re all essentially red-shirts, perhaps that is for the best, focusing on the whodunit instead of the characters.

    The nursery rhyme I love because it starts out creepy and then becomes haunting, like an echo or a chant repeated after every death.

    If you’re looking for another Christie book I’d recommend The Thirteen Problems. It’s a set of 13 short stories told by Ms. Marple and friends, each a different murder mystery. It’s quite good and perhaps the first stories to feature Marple.

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    • The nursery rhyme is a great device, isn’t it? I started out thinking it would spoil the suspense but I ended up referring back to it constantly to try and guess what would happen next! Thanks for the recommendations!

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  10. This was my first Christie too! It kind of haunted me–I remember finding the bit where there are only two people left, both of them convinced that the other is the killer, particularly disturbing. I think it’s one of her best, before she settles down into the Poirot/Marple/cosy-village-murders groove. My dad and I also read aloud together They Came To Baghdad, one of her lesser-known ones but with an intriguing espionage slant: would highly recommend that, too!

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  11. Glad you enjoyed this one, Cathy. I ripped through a fair few Agatha Christie novels as a teenager but haven’t read her in years. She’s so good when it comes to setting everything up!

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  12. I love Agatha Christie. I can’t remember this one at all. Some of her novels are better than others in some novels characters have more depth than others. She is a brilliant storyteller and creator of mysteries though.

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  13. I haven’t read Agatha Christie since high school. May have to revisit her. This one sounds like a good one.

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  14. I read this one recently, too, and loved it. I thought it quite dark and macabre in just the *idea* of how this whole thing went down. I’m new to Christie, too, having only read three books from her vast backlist. Great review!

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  15. I’ve never read an Agatha Christie book, I originally avoided them years ago believing they were old and stuffy (oh how little younger me knew!), but I’ve seen lots of fans and collectors of her work rave about them, so I think I’m going to have to start being on the lookout for these in local charity shops and give them a go. Sounds like a very interesting and gripping read! R x

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  16. It was only last year (I think?) that I read my first Agatha Christie. I always stayed far away from them at the libraries and bookstores but I had recently cottoned on to the fact that the mystery/crime sections could be fun to browse and read too. How silly I was.

    Got a lot of catching up to do!

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  17. Wow you are doing loads better than me! I must try harder. I am also jealous of your beautiful menus and indexing (geeky I know!) I haven’t got the hang of wordpress yet properly. I need to spend some time playing…

    I love Agatha Christie by the way. This is a great review; I’m glad you liked her. The only one I’ve reviewed so far is Death On The Nile… https://murderundergroundbrokethecamel.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/death-on-the-nile/

    Liked by 1 person

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