Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Classic Novel from Agatha Christie

This book, first published in 1939, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), are generally considered to be Agatha Christie's most outstanding achievements. Both are premier examples of the "locked room" mystery, and this book is perhaps the most elaborate puzzle mystery ever published. Christie noted later that it was the most difficult book she ever wrote and the one that pleased her the most.

As the book opens, eight people who are all strangers to each other, accept an invitation to spend the weekend at an island house. None of them is really familiar with their hosts, a Mr. and Mrs. Owen, but they accept the invitation just the same. However, on arriving on the island, they discover that their host and hostess have been delayed and will not arrive until the following day.

The guests are thus left in the care of the couple that runs the household. Oddly, they too have never met their employers and are carrying out instructions that were mailed to them when their services were retained. Counting the couple, there are now ten people effectively abandoned on the island, given that the boat that has brought them has returned to the mainland and will not be coming back to the island for several days due to rough seas.

In each of the guest rooms there is a copy of a blackface song, written in the 1860s, and titled variously as "Ten Little Niggers," or "Ten Little Injuns." (Christie's novel was first published as Ten Little Niggers, but later editions of the book were sanitized, and the title changed to reflect the last line of the song. In current editions, the song is titled "Ten Little Soldiers," which presumably will not offend anyone's sensibilities.) The song describes the activities of the ten little individuals who die, one by one, in various misadventures until the last one expires, "and then there were none."

As the ten people assemble on the first evening on the island, it is revealed that each of them has a dark secret. Each of them has effectively gotten away with causing the death of another person. And sure enough, the ten people begin to die, each in a way that reflects a death in the poem. After two or three deaths, panic sets in and the guests don't know what to do, whom to trust, or how to save themselves.

The story is best read as a classic example of a style of British mystery that was once very popular. Needless to say, crime fiction has come a long way in the last eighty years, and readers accustomed to more contemporary novels may find this one more than a bit odd. It's fun to watch the puzzle unfold, though, and to see Agatha Christie at her best. In that sense, this is a book that should interest a large number of crime fiction fans.


  1. I read this one as Ten Little Indians, and my paperback was the movie poster for the same name from 1974 that had Oliver Reed and Elke Sommer in it. That movie had the setting in Iran of all places. I love this book. There was a really good BBC miniseries made of this in 2015 that followed the book faithfully, with some spiced up sexiness to Vera and Philip's characters.

    1. I remember reading it years ago as Ten Little Indians as well, but didn't ever see the movie. I'll look for the miniseries; thanks for the heads-up..