” Whoever it was who enticed us here, that person knows or has taken the trouble to find out a good deal about us all. ” (Ch.4, p.57)
Second or third time around And Then There Were None still intrigues me and creeps me. The book has long achieved a cult status and makes the canonical standing in the mystery genre. The title has already given away what will happen so it is not the outcome that concerns the reader. It’s how and why. All invited by someone known as U.N. Owen, ten people—a doctor, a governess, a soldier of fortune, a carefree playboy, an ex-cop, a judge, a retired general and a married couple who are to be servants—all gather in a modern house well stocked with provisions and amenities on an island a mile off the Devon coast.
It’s all mad! The whole thing of going by the rhyme is mad! . . . Don’t you see? We’re the Zoo . . . last night, we were hardly human any more. We’re the Zoo . . . (Ch.15, p.226)
All the guests share a dubiously wicked past that they are not prepared to reveal. They were involved in undertakings that were beyond the reach of the law. As suggested by the title, one by one they fall prey , in a manner paralleling, inexorably and sometimes grotesquely, the nursery rhyme mounted on the wall of each guest room. The set of ten china figurines on the dining table also keeps tally of the number of remaining guests as fatal cruelty descends.
It’s those little figures, sir. In the middle of the table. The little china figures. Ten of them, there were, I’ll swear to that, ten of them. (Ch.6, p.95)
And Then There Were None is a psychological study. Panic ensues when the diminishing group realizes that one of their own number is the killer. Formality and politeness are forgotten. No one is exonerated from guilt as the perpetrator could be among the group, only the dead is above suspicion. The mystery is, if all are dead, who is the killer? Christie’s skill at plotting was evident from the first. The book also explores human conscience. If these people are undeniably guilty, to what extent would they resort to the fate as it’s dictated by the nursery rhyme. Christie really captures that psyche so evidently in the dialogue that becomes more and more sparse and less coherent. Would the consciousness of one’s guilt, the state of nervous tension consequent on having just murdered someone, be sufficient, together with the hypnotic suggestion of the surroundings, to cause the last guest to take his/her own life?
Christie is at her most ingenious and most surprising in this book. Her plot may be highly artificial, but it is neat, brilliantly cunning, soundly constructed, and free from any of those red-herring false trails which sometimes disfigure her work.
275 pp. St. Martin. Mass Paperback. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]