The second Agatha Christie novel on my list of books I want to read, And Then There Were None joins The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as one of the most famous detective stories ever written. Adapted many times over the years, it’s her best-selling novel and her most recognised, yet doesn’t feature Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple.
My first memory of And The There Were None is a play and not the book, though I seem to have known about the story before taking my seat. This is many years ago and my memory clouds the two things together. We sat very high in the theatre, I think in the back row, and the stage and actors looked like miniatures before I got used to the height. It was the first play I saw, my parents took me, and I was amazed. I still remember being frightened by an unexpected gunshot midway through.
The clearest part of that memory are the ten figures on the stage, which would disappear one-by-one as characters were killed off. After the first departed, I looked and looked for signs of some stagehand sneaking on in all black to silently remove one. No matter how hard I tried to focus, the play would always pull me back in and I never saw the sleight of hand take place.
The novel itself, published in 1939, tells the story of a group of 10 strangers brought together and stranded in a grand house on an island. Whilst they await their host, a record plays accusing each of being responsible for a series of deaths, from careless driving to suffocation. Tensions rise and suspicion builds until, one by one, the visitors are murdered in a way that follows the pattern of a nursery rhyme hung around the island house.
Much like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I won’t talk about the plot in any detail as it’s the star of the show. Christie builds an intricate house of cards that’s just real enough to believe and just crazy enough to make you wonder if it could be done. As Laura Thompson describes it, And Then There Were None is “like a machine ticking remorselessly towards the endgame.” Everything is built with precision towards the stark and terrifying idea of systematic serial murder.
The real joy of And Then There Were None is in re-reading the novel to see if you can find any holes or loose threads in the story. Christie’s skill as a storyteller is so great that with each re-read you still get drawn to the characters and never quite catch sight of the stagehand.
And Then There Were None is one of the highest-selling books of all time.
A Note on the Author
Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and wrote over 60 detective novels, as well as 14 short story collections and the world’s longest running play, The Mousetrap. She created legendary characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, as well as And Then There Were None, which has sold over 100 million copies to date. Christie died in 1976 at the age of 85.