Agatha Christie created a challenge for both herself and her readers in writing this, her first “nursery rhyme” mystery. Ten strangers (eight guests and two servants) are lured in various ways to a remote island off the coast of Devon by a Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen. There seems to be no one else on the island and, in fact, the Owens are not yet there.
Christie’s challenge? How can all ten people be killed, according to the old nursery rhyme, with no outside interference? Main-landers have been instructed to leave the island alone. Besides, no one can come to the island is bad weather, and the weather is stormy.
As each guest unpacks they notice a framed copy of this nursery rhyme on the wall of each room: Ten Little Indians
Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in half and then there were six.
Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Indian boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two Little Indian boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Indian boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
One by one each of the ten strangers begin to die. At first the reader decides there has to be someone else on the island. Then the reader becomes fascinated with how the method of each death matches the nursery rhyme. This reader then thought that, by the time there were only four people left, someone or something would intervene and save the remaining favorite characters. Finally, by the end, I was completely puzzled. I figured it had to be someone very well hidden on the island or one of the ten. But — who, and how, and why? The reader must wait for the Epilogue to explains it all.
And Then There Were None is, by far, THE BEST Agatha Christie mystery to date. Suspense fills every ounce of this story. It was impossible for me to figure out who would be the next victim and who was doing these heinous crimes. If you only want to read one of Ms. Christie’s books, read this one. It’s that good. Expect to be stumped.
I listened to the audio version of this book. It was beautifully narrated by Hugh Fraser. His voice was perfect for this story; his drawing-room accent mingled well with the creepiness of the plot.
And Then There Were None was first published in the UK in November 1939 as Ten Little Niggers. Three months later it was published in the US with the title changed to the last few words of the nursery rhyme. The story has been rewritten several times as plays, movies and a TV show. Just stick with the original story.
I read this novel as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge. (Click the button below for more info.) This is book number 31.