"One of us... one of us..."
Ten people gather for a party on a deserted island mansion just off the coast of Devon, invited by mysterious host U. N. Owen. They are Mr Justice Wargrave (a judge), Dr Edward Armstong, the elderly Miss Emily Brent, private detective William Blore, young and reckless Anthony Marsdon, Vera Claythorne, Phillip Lombard, General MacArthur and hired helps Mr and Mrs Rogers. On arrival they find their host has not arrived but continue the gathering as planned. Happy and smiling they have their evening meal and retire to the drawing room.
And then, a disembodied voice:
"Ladies and gentlemen! Silence please!"
"You are charged with the following indictments:
"Edward George Armstrong, that you did upon the 14th day of March 1925, cause the death of Louisa Mary Clees.
"Emily Caroline Brent, that upon the 5th November, 1931, you were responsible for the death of Beatrice Taylor.
"William Henry Blore, that you brought about the death of James Stephen Landor on October 10th, 1928..."
They listen as each and every one of them is accused of murder. They find the voice was played back on a record player. A practical joke? That's what most of them think. Until Marsdon collapses to the floor, his face purple and breath smelling of cyanide...
Then another person dies, and another, and another - and the survivors, trapped on the island, realise that a murderer may be amongst them...
And Then There Were None was originally published in 1939 under the title Ten Little Niggers. It was later re-titled for obvious reasons to Ten Little Indians, and finally to far less offensive and politically correct And Then There Were None.
Agatha Christie is generally regarded as having written three masterpieces in her long career. This is the third of those.
No regular characters from her other books feature here, so no Poirot or Miss Marple. This book comes towards
the end of a run of books that truly established Christie as a brilliant mystery writer, including Murder in Mesopotamia (1936), Cards on the Table (1937), which had a similar premise, and Death on the Nile (1937). This really was Christie's golden age, and one of her most productive too - between 1930 and 1939, Christie wrote 23 mystery books.
Christie has taken a brilliantly original and simple idea and turned it into a classic novel. Ten people trapped on an island, one of them a homicidal lunatic - but which? Can they work it out before they become the next victim?
With each subsequent murder, each person becomes more and more paranoid, not wanting to be alone with one of the others, refusing to let anyone make them a drink, and the tension is wound so tight you won't be able to wait to see what happens next.
Throughout the book we are let into the thoughts of each character, but nothing we read there immediately suggests who the murderer is; could they think these thoughts and be the murderer at the same time? At the end of the book you'll be flicking back through the pages to see how the solution matches up.
Of all of her books, this is probably the one where we spend the most time coming up with theories as to how each one of them could have done it. The clues are there, but they are very difficult to spot. The book twists and turns throughout as you keep changing your choice of suspect. Towards the end of the book you will be quite baffled until the very last chapter.
Most of the murders are committed by a different weapon, including being shot, poisoned, struck on the head, drowned and crushed. This only makes the book more intriguing - only one weapon would limit the possible suspects due to opportunity. Even with this, Christie ensures each member of the party cannot account for their whereabouts with each murder. This isn't very likely - surely someone would have a proven alibi - but it doesn't really matter as it's less fun with fewer suspects.
Typically, we do have our hero and heroine in this one, Phillip Lombard and Vera Claythorne. Lombard is the usual carefree but practical Christie hero, although not enough to be eliminated from the suspects (especially as he was the only one to bring a weapon with him). Claythorne is plain terrified of being the next victim and guilt stricken at the charge she was accused of earlier.
There's a very high body count in this - but I won't say how many for fear of spoiling it! What I will say, however, is don't expect an upbeat ending like many other of the novellist's books.
Advantages: Brilliant story ideas, A lot of tension, Surprise ending