My father has always loved a good British murder mystery, and it seems to be a love that I inherited from him as I am very fond of them as well. Beginning in middle school, he would often finish a PD James or Agatha Christie paperback and encourage me to read it. I was thrilled that I was mature enough to read the same books as my father. My first Christie book, Ten Little Indians, was a family favorite and the beginning of my love of the genre. (The title was changed twice and is now published as And Then There Were None, so as to remove any racially insensitive references in the title.) Feeling nostalgic, I picked a copy for a re-read this past weekend.
In the book, a classic mystery from a legend of the genre, Agatha Christie takes us to a storm-battered island off the coast of England where a party of ten has gathered. Each of the guests has been lured to the island by a mysterious millionaire under false pretenses — a doctor thinks he is to treat a reclusive patient, an unhappy school-teacher thinks she is to begin a new job, a gambler to work off his debts — to find themselves part of a strange party. With no host in sight and no way off the secluded island, the guests are called together and each one accused of a separate murder. Everyone feigns shock and horror; all assume a prank is being played until it becomes clear that their host has already found them guilty, but outside of the reach of the law, and each has been sentenced to death. Almost immediately the murders begin and the remaining party members must decide if there is a hidden eleventh person on the island or if one of them is the murderer.
Christie’s story presents the ideal setting and set up for a murder mystery — a storm-battered island with no means of escape, everyone a suspect, a plot filled with red herrings and unexpected twists. In fact, these elements have become the gold standard in the murder mystery genre. However, the book, written in the 1930’s cannot quite compete with the complex thrillers written in more recent decades. Perhaps is it our global obsession with psychology and the everyday appearance on TV and in movies depicting serial killers and their victims, but the characters seem less affected than we know they must be. Their fear and guilt is not communicated to readers as effectively as it might be. The action seems somehow removed from the characters and that leaves something to be desired. I felt myself dissatisfied wanting to know more about each person and how the tension was affecting them. On the other hand, the book offers readers a thrilling story without the graphic details of murder and mayhem so prevalent in modern day mysteries.
Overall a quick, fun read, ideal — as I found out — for a cloudy, blustery October afternoon. Reading the book will certainly put you in good company, according to Wikipedia, “And Then There Were None is Christie’s best-selling novel with over 100 million copies sold, also making it the world’s best-selling mystery, and one of the best-selling books of all time.”