And Then There Were None has been hailed by critics as Agatha Christie‘s masterpiece. She herself has mentioned that And Then There Were None was one of the most difficult novel to write, owing to the difficulty of the plot.
Published in 1939, And Then There Were None, brought forth a new form of mystery thriller, one where all the characters die off one by one and readers are left to ponder who, and most importantly, how the murders were committed. Since then, this type of mystery has become a very popular formula.
The story starts by introducing 8 people all on their way to the mysterious Soldier Island. All have different reasons for going there – some by personal invitation by the new owners of the island and famous “modern” mansion, a Mr. or Ms. Owens; others by answering a need to fill a temporary post or provide services; most had received letters from the owners or common acquaintances, inviting them to spend a week on the island for some peaceful R&R time.
The 8 guests were a strange mix of characters from all walks of life – a teacher, a judge, a doctor, an old spinster, a retired general, a socialite, a former police officer and a mercenary, and except for a couple of guests who have some vague distant connections, none of the 8 people know each other personally or have met previous their arrival on the island.
Upon arriving at Soldier Island, they were surprised to learn that aside from the butler and housekeeper, a Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, no one was available to receive and welcome them, their host being detained elsewhere and leaving only instructions that they should make themselves at home. Little did they know there were in for a bigger surprise that evening.
While the 10 individuals – the 8 guests and the 2 servants, were enjoying their after dinner drinks, a mysterious voice was heard in the room, welcoming them and accusing all of them of a murder they had all been guilty of. The source of the mysterious voice was a gramophone recording in an adjoining room, which Mr. Rogers was instructed to put on while the guests were enjoying their drinks. Troubled by the accusations made against them, the 10 individuals proceeded to tell their stories hoping to clear their names, and then to explain the circumstances behind their being on Soldier Island. From the common elements found in their letters or invitations, they quickly realized that the whole thing had been a ruse to get them on the island, and that their benefactor had wittily called himself Mr. or Mrs. U.N. Owen, or “Unknown.”
Bizarre as the situation was, the 10 individuals were nothing more than troubled and a little angry at themselves for readily accepting the invitation from a stranger – that is, until they start noticing a terrifying pattern: they were dying off one by one.
And Then There Were None is not just a brilliantly executed murder mystery, it is also a study on the flaws of human nature. Though the 10 individuals, whose crimes were just beyond the reach of the law, have justified their actions in relation to the crimes they were accused of, deep within themselves, they are still haunted by the choices they had made, as well as the people they had sinned against.
As the people on Soldier Island die one by one, they come to a horrified realization that there wasn’t a murderer on the island out to get them; the murderer was actually on of them.
Because of the nature of the plot, readers will quickly feel that the novel is quite predictable. And because the novel’s formula has been borrowed and modified by popular culture since its publication, one can easily guess where the story is going, and how it will end. However, though modern readers are jaded by TV mysteries and thrillers inspired by Agatha Christie’s novel, the answer to the mystery is quite mind boggling. The story is so perplexing, in fact that without the epilogue, readers would be hard pressed to solve the carefully laid out and equally brilliant mystery.
For someone who loves murder mysteries/thrillers, I don’t know why it took me this long to read an Agatha Christie novel. I’ve always known of her, of course, and I’m familiar with a lot of her novels; I just never thought that I’d like her work. I guess I thought that her work might be out dated or old fashioned. I was very happy to discover that aside from some words that are not readily used in modern fiction (and some accompanying behavior from the characters), the novel was surprisingly fresh and utterly compelling. And Then There Were None is short and straight to the point, and though the plot seems a bit repetitive and predictable, it is still a relevant part of the genre, and I would recommend it not only for anyone who loves a good mystery, but for anyone who loves good literature.
And Then There Were None (1939) – Agatha Christie
HarperCollins; 247 pages
Personal rating: 3/5