And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie, 1939
Book Review by Molly Lundquist
Agatha Christie is the doyenne of murder mysteries—not because she was a prose stylist (she wasn't) nor because she was prolific (though she was). Her staying power is due to the sheer inventiveness of her stories and tight structure of her plots—plots that surprise, even though the clues have been there all along. For nearly a century, mystery writers have marveled at her technique.
Her classic And Then There Were None remains Christie's best selling novel—and the top-selling mystery of all time. It's a bone-chilling, deadly story.
Ten people, each harboring a dark secret, have been invited to a remote island off England's Cornish coast. Over the course of several days, the guests are killed off—one by one—until those who survive come to the horrible realization that the killer is among themselves.
Opting for safety in numbers, they band together even though any attempt at pleasantry is thwarted by suspicion—they neither like each other nor trust each other. And neither do we. Terror sets in as the those who remain dwindle in number... until, one by one, they each fall. And now there are none.
Christie writes with a bit of a tin ear: her characters are wooden and dialog stilted. Yet as the killings progress and tension builds, we forget all that...and allow the atmospherics to cast its pall. The final death comes as a relief—certainly for readers but even, it almost, for the victim.
Are any of the characters even likable? Book groups will have fun deciding that...as well as parsing the clues (how cleverly they're dropped) and examining the logic behind the plot. Clubs might also discuss the concept of legal justice vs. philosophical justice. Finally, there's a 1945 film version, which would be fun to watch and compare with the book.
One last word: Christie has been deservedly criticized for her offensive anti-semitism, evidence of which appears in this story. For that reason, I hesitate to recommend it. At the very least, however, it's a reminder of the zero-tolerance most of us have today for bigotry.
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