Written by Lauryn Smith
This review has been one of the toughest to write. Not because the book in question is bad—its plotline is classic and has been imitated time and again—but because it has simply been so long since a review of any kind has appeared in the Nook! Have I forgotten how to write or something??
With sincere apologies to both audience and myself, I propose we begin afresh. Let’s take a trip to a faraway land… Just kidding. But, say a kinda-sorta stranger invites you to be a weekend guest on their private island. Would you go? My friends-in-spirit out there might impulsively respond, “Free vacation? Let’s go, go, go!” But Agatha Christie’s dark, quirky novel “And Then There Were None” begs us foolhardy folks to think twice about such a proposition.
Christie is the quintessential mystery writer. “And Then There Were None,” her best-selling mystery novel, is an easy favorite, a short, classic whodunit that can be eaten up in a day with total satisfaction.
Set in the 1930s, the story involves a wealthy, enigmatic man who invites a host of people to stay at his estate on a private island off of England’s Devon coast. Each invitee agrees to his summons, viewing the opportunity as a reprieve. The various guests meet and greet, but things sour quickly. First, a mysterious audio recording plays, its contents accusing each guest of murder. Then, a storm traps everyone on the island. Nefarious incidents ensue, with guests turning up dead, one by one. A madman appears to be on the loose, and logic tells us that it must be someone from this isolated group. No one feels safe. Accusations fly, and emotions run amok as the bad guy is narrowed in upon.
Christie writes robustly yet succinctly. Some might say that her prose is a bit blasé, particularly as the characters are being introduced. Get past the requisite worldbuilding, though, and relish Christie’s characterization and plot structure, which remains tidy despite myriad twists and turns and red herrings.
She is decidedly formulaic in the telling of this story, and her repetitions in verse and action are as artful as they are useful in giving the story momentum. The simplicity, however, lays the proper groundwork for the unexpected denouement. (Leonardo da Vinci’s belief that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” definitely rings true here.)
Christie uses the third person, and with each chapter, she focuses on a different character. She lets readers see some of what each character is thinking and why but does not fully disclose any meaningful secrets. Her shifts in perspective keep readers at attention. Any every now and then, her characters will make readers cringe—do they not know that splitting up the group never ends well?? With each eerie event and new piece of evidence comes more uncertainty of the killer’s motive and identity, up to the last page.
It might sound complex, but once you settle in, the story is quite straightforward. Christie’s deliberate use of detail grounds a series of disparate plot points that coalesce into a *gasp* shocking revelation. While the tone of the book is decidedly dark, the take is melodramatic. The resulting vibe is both sinister and, dare I say, amusing. (Picture “Clue,” not “Saw.”)
The novel was published in 1939, so some unfamiliar terms and customs are referenced throughout, but context clues help modern readers understand them. (Raise your hand if you know what a gramophone is.) Nevertheless, the treatment of minority groups is antiquated. Newer editions of the story have thankfully attempted to remedy problematic language, including title adjustments to eliminate politically incorrect terms to describe people (check out the book’s publication history), but you still cannot escape old-fashioned mores concerning women.
Looking deeper, “And Then There Were None” offers chance to explore the concepts of remorse and responsibility, as well as how people from different walks of life rationalize their values and justify their actions. One might consider what it means to implement justice, and who should do so. Or, what might guilt drive people to do, and how far are they willing to go to hide, forget, and reinvent their past? At points, the characters’ dispositions seem more frightening than the primary plotline.
If so inclined, you will see that the book is chock full of food for thought. But if that is not your prerogative—never fear! It is just as fun to be swept along the swells of Christie’s imagination, and then recognize all the ways in which “And Then There Were None” has influenced entertainment since its debut. (An obvious, somewhat recent example is the premise of the “Final Destination” movie series. Plus, the story proper has been reimagined in film, TV, radio, literature, and video and board games multiple times.)
As a woman with a mysteriousness all her own, it is no wonder that Christie created this effortless tale of mistrust and survival while shrouding it in veils of paranoia and misdirected logic. Overall, “And Then There Were None” is ideal for those wanting a clear-cut, old-timey murder mystery, but it is also conducive to deeper reflection of ideologies both the intrinsic and extrinsic to the story. An appropriate age group is harder to define; though easy enough to comprehend, some of the scenes are a bit graphic.
So, is it fantastical? Sure. But it is also totally captivating. Can a murder mystery be any more classic?
Title: And Then There Were None
Author: Agatha Christie
Original publisher: Collins Crime Club
Original publication date: November 6, 1939
Buy here: Amazon
Page count: 300
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