And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

The 75th anniversary edition of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None opens with a smug quote from Christie's autobiography. In it, she describes the book's premise as “perfectly reasonable”, mentions that it was well received by critics, and announces that she was the person who was most pleased with it, as she alone knew how difficult writing it had been. Having now re-read And Then There Were None for the first time since I was a child, I am officially amazed that anyone other than Christie has ever been pleased with it.

First, a word of warning: And Then There Were None was previously published under various unprintable titles (you can read about the book's publishing history here), and, even after considerable editing, it still contains plenty of racist, sexist, classist, and antisemitic language. Most of this is attributable to the attitudes of the period, but it's still gross to read, so brace yourself.

The best thing about And Then There Were None is its setup. Ten people are lured to an empty house on an otherwise uninhabited island. When they all come down for dinner on the first night of their stay, a recording is played that accuses them individually of murder. The recording announces that they have been brought to the island to face judgment, and immediately the terrified group begins to die, one by one, methodically killed off by an unknown assassin.

And Then There Were None is a perfect illustration of the fact that just because someone can do something, it doesn't necessarily mean that they should. Christie obviously put loads of effort into creating the world's most elaborate murder mystery, but the end result is totally ridiculous. Nothing about this story is plausible—not the actual murders, not the killer's motivation, not the way the case is solved (via, I kid you not, a message in a bottle). It's the literary equivalent of building a massive Rube Goldberg device: it looks impressive, but it's a ludicrous amount of effort for a marble to knock over a domino. Admittedly, And Then There Were None is famous enough to offer some “cultural literacy” value (it's the best-selling mystery of all time, so you should probably have at least a nodding familiarity with the plot), but if you're looking for an even remotely realistic mystery, look somewhere else. Hell, look anywhere else.
Posted by: Julianka


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