And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie, 1939) – Ten strangers are invited to a mysterious island mansion, where their secrets threaten to end in blood.
With Poirot and Marple out of the equation, And Then There Were None employs the reader as a willing detective to a simply but sharply crafted mystery.
Ten strangers are invited to an island. When the needle drops, undesirable secrets spill. An anonymous record on the phonograph reveals a death row under the guise of an island mansion, threatening its guests with long-due justice for alleged wrongdoings.
Helmed as Dame Agatha Christie’s masterpiece, And Then There Were None proves its acclaim rightfully won. First published in 1939, the timeless mystery lives up to expectations built by her reputation, sustaining an air of deadly mutual mistrust.
They exchanged good-nights on the upper landing. Each of them went into his or her own room, and each of them automatically, almost without conscious thought, locked the door…
The crowd of ten offers few common grounds in their backgrounds and statuses. But extant are tantalising clues to their potential motives or capacity for the role as jury and executioner. The moral puzzle holds the reader then and there, cautiously noting every inkling of guilt and all possible conjectures.
One by one, serial murders occur in a deceptively rote routine. Suspicion arises, of red herrings at play. Which secret revealed is but a lie? Surely, the murderer has feigned his or her own death? An artful maneuver keeps the answers at bay and suspenseful intrigue at hand.
Hung on the walls of guest rooms, a child’s rhyme Ten Little Indians spell of a calculated end for each victim. The insidious verses anchor the fatal game of life, prophesying the ‘how’ of their imminent deaths and hastening sand in the hourglass.
When the sea goes down, there will come from the mainland boats and men. And they will find ten dead bodies and an unsolved problem on Indian Island.
Such deliberate plotting feels better suited for the stage. Yet this effectively puts us in the thrilling race against time. Every death makes a slight mockery of aspiring detectives who wish to outrace and outwit Christie, to little avail. But we remain gripped to pursue the satisfying conclusion.
While my Sherlock Holmes novels are well-worn, I am ashamed to admit I have never gotten to reading any of Agatha Christie’s works, her influence on modern mystery writers clear. It is regretful that I have not begun sooner. But as they say, better late than never.