On a small island off the coast of Devon, ten people have been summoned, each lured there by a different enticement. The host, a Mr U N Owen, is nowhere to be found. On entering their rooms, they each find a framed copy of an old children’s nursery rhyme.
“Ten Little Soldier Boys went out to dine, One choked his little self and then there were nine.”
At dinner, a recording plays, accusing everyone in the room of being a murderer who has escaped justice. And the first death occurs – Anthony Marston chokes to death, just as the rhyme predicted…
Hmm. Do I dare put the image of the edition that I just read? No, I don’t think so. Not only is it the original title (and the original poem) but the picture itself is stunningly inappropriate – it’s the Fontana paperback edition, if you want to look it up.
Right, I’m back. Sorry for the relatively long absence – the Puzzlies might end up being a rather short list this month – but I’ve been plagued by a number of irritatingly minor but distracting medical issues over the last couple of weeks. Not that I’d prefer something major, obviously…
As such, I’ve been reading less than usual and have reverted to guaranteed easy reads – apologies to the authors who are awaiting reviews for books sent to me. They will be coming soon, but I felt that I wouldn’t give them a fair crack of the whip if I read them while feeling as under the weather as I do right now.
So, where were we? Oh, yes, Ten Little N… I mean, And Then There Were None.
I know, it’s a bit ridiculous, but I’ve never read it before. My sister read it a long time ago and I remember her telling me something of the basic plot – including something rather crucial. And so I didn’t read it then and for whatever reason, only came back to it over thirty years later. So I came to it with an idea of the plot structure, a spoiled part of the killer’s MO, but no knowledge of the killer themselves.
This is often up there as one of Christie’s masterpieces, and I can see why. It’s a daringly different style of book from her, and it works a treat, mostly.
She makes a real effort with the character of the ten victims - the only one who seems rather one-note is the first victim, the only one who really seems to be asking for his fate – and I found myself really caring about the fate of at least one of the characters. The pacing of the deaths – slow at first, then speeding up – is perfectly timed and the tension as the body count rises is palpable.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with books that let you see into the minds of the characters, it’s too easy to eliminate most of the characters from your suspicions. I was pretty sure who was behind everything, but Dame Agatha made me doubt myself with one of her cleverer tricks – I was right, by the way. But I wasn’t sure…
OK, if you’re going to bring reality into things, the murderer is lucky far too many times to be plausible – but this isn’t an exercise in plausibility. It’s a book rightfully considered a classic of the genre, and it comes highly recommended.