Book Review – And Then There Were None (By: Agatha Christie)

How much of an introduction does And Then There Were None need? It’s probably the most well-known mystery novel of all time by the most well-known mystery author in the world. The story of 10 unrelated people arriving on an island only to be murdered one by one has now become a trope, and is found throughout popular culture. But having been written back in the (19)30’s, can it really hold up today as the classic of its genre?

The first thing to note is that the version of the book you can buy today has been altered several times since its original publication, and since the version I read. Most of these changes have been to remove offensive material that wasn’t “as” offensive when the book was published… the most obvious change is the removal of the word “nigger” (I think this is my 4th book this year with some variation of the word) from the title and the poem, but without many reference points myself I couldn’t tell you if anything of substance was changed.

The main gist of the book is as described above: 10 people who have nothing in common save having potentially committed and un-prosecutable crime are brought to an island, accused of their crimes, an systematically murdered. The island is cut off from the outside world by the supply boat not coming back, and weather that is agreeable to the plot. You, as the reader, don’t specifically have to continue guessing who the murderer is, but it’s fun to play along and it becomes easier and easier as you go along because people, you know, die. The writing is a bit stilted, and at times sparse. It feels like things were just left out of some places, whether that was due to a time constraint (real or self-imposed) or is just part of the style I couldn’t say, but I can’t keep up with how these interactions between people are supposed to be going.

And it does move by quickly, it’s a real page-turner, and the problems with the style are mere pinpricks in an increasingly exciting plot. It’s all a bit silly, of course, with the murders all based on the “Indian” rhyme, putting the characters in situations that feel a bit contrived. But it wasn’t written to be the pinnacle of literature: it is, of course, a mystery novel. And without going into too much plot detail I think it is a fascinating idea that turns the genre a bit on its head (though not now with it being so engrained). But it was one of her earlier novels, and I can’t help but feel like a more experienced Christie could’ve done more with the work. It’s still fun to read, but it doesn’t feel like one of the best mystery books of the century (and some of her other famous books were written even before this one).

Because of the format of the novel, you get more than your average introduction where everyone must be described in enough detail that you know why they are there and how they could be the killer before everyone starts dying. But once you get over that hump (the only major hurdle in the novel, and it isn’t very long) you get many of the standard tropes, along with the interesting puzzle of determining whether you think the General, or the Detective, or the Judge, or the Secretary, or whoever is doing the killing. It even has my personal favorite possibility: Butler did it. And this is very entertaining right up until the end where you discover who the actual murderer is, and I was quite surprised. There might be a bit of a disconnect here and there since the book was written by someone who presumably wasn’t actually around murder a whole lot and didn’t have the internet to verify facts about how murders go down. I was easily able to suspend my disbelief, though, and besides this only opened up one plot hole that turned out to be less of a plot hole later on.

I’m not really a big fan of mysteries (certainly not as much as the person who previously owned one of my copies {where the poem was changed to “soldiers”} who underlined and took down notes in an attempt to figure out the culprit), but I would like to think I do know an entertaining book. And this certainly is one. I’d be very surprised if you liked mystery novels and haven’t read this one, but if that is the case it’s worth a look. It might not be the greatest one of its kind ever, or even of Christie’s work, but it’s a solid and entertaining read which I would recommend to my friends who are fans of mysteries, thrillers, or just quick and easy-to-read books.