book-reviews

And Then There Were None

by Agatha Christie

Rating: ★★★

So, Christie is not exactly a great stylist. We start by being hit over the head with 'here are the cast', and there are other annoying quirks.

He said by way of example: "This sort of dialogue is weird."

Some snippets that particularly made me roll my eyes:

Mr. Justice Wargrave looked at him with active malevolence. He seemed to be wishing that he could order the court to be cleared.

Ugghh. Get it? Because he's a judge?

There was something magical about an island—the mere word suggested fantasy. You lost touch with the world—an island was a world of its own. A world, perhaps, from which you might never return

You might as well just write 'FORESHADOWING' in big spooky font.

“Oh, yes. I’ve no doubt in my own mind that we have been invited here by a madman—probably a dangerous homicidal lunatic.”

Because they signed their letters 'UNKNOWN'!? This judge is pretty damn judgemental.

Anyway, she's not great, but it didn't meaningfully impede my enjoyment of the book, so enough of that, and on to the plot/mystery bit... I didn't guess the killer, and I think given the absolute ridiculousness of the supposed solution that's fairly justified.

Issues with Wargrave's 'confession':

About the only thing that corroborates is Wargrave obviously enjoying playing detective and the quote I gave above where he pushes the killer idea, which is pretty weak. I think the detectives are right, the situation calls for another person who was the killer, I guess using Wargrave as a cover. I don't know how they would have gotten off the island, but possibly via the search party?

The whole story given in the solution sounds like something you can only write after having seen how everything turned out, and not like a thing anyone would actually plan to do.

One critical point I noticed was that each person had to confess before they died, and excepting Lombard they all died fairly shortly after their confession. You could argue that this is Christie rather than the killer, but it seems sort of connected to the whole justice motif. This suggests that the killer is on the island to overhear them somehow, but how this is accomplished isn't clear -- any sort of island tunnel system would surely be uncovered by a thorough enough police search.

On the note of the justice motif, the idea that these people can't be punished by the law simply does not fit for Marston, who lost his license for killing the kids, and somehow nobody then or now comments on how what he did was probably manslaughter. Maybe he's rich enough to buy his way out, but that's not something anyone actually says happened, and even the solution letter says he's blameless for some reason.

Anyway, I don't have a clear counter-answer, still, but here are my notes on the murders as I wrote them into the poem as I read.

"Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine. -- Marston: the old poisoned glass, the tray was prepared for them (never clear as to by whom), he was last back from Mrs. Rogers, doesn't matter which of them goes to fit the rhyme. Nine little Indian boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were eight. -- Some kind of switch with what the Doctor gave her, either Rogers or Marston could've made it. Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon; One said he'd stay there and then there were seven. -- Rogers was there first, Mr. Sneaky Feet, but most people had the opportunity, including Lombard. Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were six. -- With Rogers out, it's looking a lot more like another party is the killer. The gap for Lombard is a bit too obviously misleading. Six little Indian boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were five. -- Definitely another party hiding out on the island somewhere inapproachable, but the 'someone gave her coffee' I think to misdirect. Five little Indian boys going in for law; One got in Chancery and then there were four. -- Seems again to validate the extra person thesis, but with Lombard in doubt because he left the room. Four little Indian boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were three. -- The red herring is a red herring? Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two. -- Proves neither Lombard nor Vera can have done it, excepting some ridiculous Rube-Goldberg machine (but we already knew it was someone else). How easy is it to aim a clock? Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was one. -- No real impact here, except this doesn't match the rhyme, so the architect was hoping for something else. One little Indian boy left all alone; He went and hanged himself and then there were none.” -- And Vera was the only one haunted enough to do this, barring maybe Mrs. Rogers or Armstrong.

More generally, I found the tension to be well-carried, and the characters fairly plausible, and have to say that the mystery of the setup worked even if the solution didn't. I wouldn't be opposed to trying some of Christie's other work in search of something that has a better-tasting ending.