And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Ten little soldier boys…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Ten people all arrive for a stay on Soldier Island, off the coast of Devon. Some have been employed by the new owners, others have been invited as guests, and all but Mr and Mrs Rogers, the butler and housekeeper, are unknown to each other. And talking of “unknown”, all they know of their hosts is that the letters of invite were signed by either Mr or Mrs U.N. Owen. But when they get there, they discover the island’s owners haven’t arrived yet. It’s a strange kind of house party, with all kinds of people from different backgrounds and walks of life – a retired judge, an old military man, a young playboy who likes to drive fast cars, a puritanical spinster, an adventurer with a murky past, a doctor, a young woman who has been hired as secretary to the owners, and an ex-policeman. After dinner on the first evening, they discover they all have one thing in common when a disembodied voice welcomes them to the island and tells them why they’ve been gathered there – they have each, in one way or another, been responsible for the death of another person and escaped punishment for it. Until now…

Undoubtedly one of Christie’s masterpieces of plotting, this is also one of her most chillingly suspenseful novels. As one by one the guests are bumped off, the tension increases exponentially among the rest. The book moves along at a rattling pace, but there’s still time for us to get to know the characters, and to learn about the crimes that have led to them being brought here. While no-one comes across as wholly innocent, Christie does a great job of showing how some could be considered more guilty than others – some of their “crimes” could be considered almost accidental, some have suffered guilt and remorse, while others are callous and cold, having committed their crimes for gain, or unfeeling monsters who have managed to justify the cruelty of their actions to their own moral satisfaction. For some of them, their stay on the island forces them to re-assess the past and begin to feel the guilt they have previously managed to suppress.

Christie is often disparaged for poor characterisation, but this book really confounds that criticism – not only are all these characters believable, but several of them are beautifully nuanced, and their actions and attitudes feel psychologically sound. One of the other aspects of Christie’s genius is that her victims generally are rather unpleasant people, so that the reader isn’t thrown into a state of grief when they get their come-uppance. No sobbing relatives, no wailing and gnashing of teeth, no rending of garments. This means that she can have umpteen murders and yet still make the books entertaining to read – a lesson that could be well learned by some of the purveyors of today’s misery-fests.

Instead what she gives us is impeccable plotting, entirely fairplay with all the real clues carefully hidden amongst the shoals of red herrings she strews in the reader’s path. In this one, the characters too are desperately trying to spot the clues – their lives depend on it. And as the group gets smaller and smaller, miraculously Christie still manages to misdirect all over the place! Though I was re-reading and therefore knew whodunit, I was still marvelling at her skill in never omitting relevant pieces of information and yet hiding them so well. It’s only when it’s all explained at the end – another thing Christie’s great at, never leaving loose ends hanging around – that her true plotting skill is revealed along with the identity of the murderer.

Quite brilliant, and I totally understand why this one is the favourite of so many Christie fans. The end (prior to the explanations) in particular is a fabulously tense bit of writing, so dark it almost counts as horror, and yet retaining entire credibility. My favourite is still The Moving Finger for sheer entertainment, but in terms of plotting, characterisation and suspense, I don’t think this one can be beaten.

I listened to the wonderful Hugh Fraser’s narration via Audible. Not only is his voice pure pleasure to listen to, he brings the various characters to life, giving each a subtly distinct persona that matches perfectly to Christie’s characterisation. And as the suspense grows, he manages perfectly to develop an atmosphere of rising dread without ever slipping into melodrama. A truly great performance – I’m loving revisiting the books in his company.

So, just in case I’ve left you in any doubt – my highest recommendation, book and narration both.

Audible UK
Audible US

52 thoughts on “And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

  1. I don’t need to tell you how much I love Christie and this one in particular is absolute genius. ‘Genius’ is a word used far too often these days but where Christie is concerned it is entirely deserved. I now have an overwhelming urge to revisit this, and the dulcet tones of the fabulous Mr Fraser seem the perfect excuse! Thank you, FF! 😀

    • She definitely is – actually re-reading with the idea of reviewing makes me pay more attention so that I’m more aware of just how skilful she is. And somehow they’re also perfect for listening to, probably because they’re so concise – she never waffles. Go on, treat yourself – you deserve it! 😀

  2. This is certainly my favourite Agatha Christie – as you say, the characterisation is quite nuanced, there is a really dark atmosphere and nothing is neatly resolved at the end. No ultimate redemption for anybody.

    • It’s been ages since I last read it, and I’d kinda forgotten just how great it is. And that ending is brilliant – so unexpected, and yet so right. When she was at her best, there’s really no one who can touch her…

  3. This is an exceptional novel, and probably the best Agatha Christie that I’ve read–I had to sleep with the lights on for two nights after reading it! (I am something of a wimp). I’m still tempted by the audiobook, especially as I can’t precisely remember all the details–but I’ll save it for a day when I’m feeling brave. Thanks for this excellent review!

    • Ha! Yes, it’s definitely one of her creepiest ones – that scene with the seaweed! She’s actually a great horror writer too – I wish she’d done more of it. If you’ve never read her The Hound of Death collection, I highly recommend it, but you’ll need the light on for at least a month afterwards… 😉

  4. So glad you liked this one as much as you did, FictionFan. I couldn’t agree more that it’s brilliantly plotted, and really well-executed, too. The house itself is deliciously creepy, too. You make a good point, too, about the characters. I like the way she lets you get to know each one’s perspective, at least a little. Yes, this is definitely up there on my ‘best of Christie’ list.

    • It’s a brilliant one, isn’t it? I’ve always liked her forays into horror and this one definitely has elements of that. And she does a remarkable job of creating a story where you get invested in the characters even though there are no real heroes, or even goodies. Reall, there’s no one who can compete with her at her best… 😀

    • I’ve always been a fan and I must say the great recordings there are now – Fraser’s, Hickson’s, Suchet’s – are giving them a whole new lease of life for me. This one is fabulous – so well plotted!

  5. I think this might have been the first book by Agatha Christie that i read way back in high school. I totally agree with your assessment. This is a textbook example of a superb mystery.

    • Isn’t it fantastic? I think it should be made compulsory reading for budding mystery writers! I must say the great recordings there are now are really giving the books a new lease of life for me – somehow they’re perfect for listening to as well as reading.

  6. I’ve been on my library wait list for quite awhile for this…I’ve never read anything by Agathie Christie and I shock myself by saying that considering I call myself a mystery lover:) Glad to hear you enjoyed this so much

    • Oh, you’re in for such a treat! The style is so different from most modern mysteries – more like cosies, I suppose, except there’s nothing cosy about the stories she tells. This one is particularly dark, and quite scary… tell your library to hurry up! 😀

    • Thank you! 😀 Yes, I’d forgotten just how brilliant this one is – definitely up there amongst my favourites too. But then so many of Christie’s are…!

  7. I have not read this particular title, but then I’m way behind in my plan to read Christie chronologically. I will take your fine review as a poke in the ribs, a gentle reminder so to speak.

    • This one is definitely worth being poked in the ribs for! 😉 I read them all randomly in my teens and twenties and have re-read my favourites many times over the years, but I’m thoroughly enjoying listening to some of the great narrations now – it’s giving them a whole new lease of life for me. Hope you enjoy this one when you get to it – I’m sure you will!

    • It’s a brilliant one! I’m throoughly enjoying listening to the audio versions of them – maybe I could train myself to watch tennis and listen at the same time. Rafa as Poirot? Hmm… maybe not… 😉

    • My friend I. whiles away the nights she can’t sleep by casting favourite books using actors – maybe she could try it with tennis players!

    • The ending is brilliant, isn’t it? So dark and yet so right – no other ending would have worked nearly so well. When she’s at her best, she’s head and shoulders above nearly every other crime writer… 😀

  8. This sounds like an ideal intro to Christie for myself (yes I seriously have not read her work – I know, I know). Sadly, I pulled up the audible link and it says it is not available in US. I will have to look into this and maybe check with my library 🙂

  9. “purveyors of today’s misery-fests” – beautifully worded! I’ve been reading histories of crime fiction recently and getting irritated by their descriptions of Agatha Christie. And when they describe the stories that they really like, the descriptions do sound awfully like “misery-fests.”

    Oddly enough, though I feel extremely familiar with this story, I have not actually read it. I will have to do that and keep an eye out for how masterfully she puts her story together.

    • I think there’s a bit of snobbishness about the golden age crime writers, especially Agatha Christie, among modern critics, but my feeling is that if the reading public are still buying her books at full price after nearly a hundred years while most of today’s best-sellers will be in an Amazon 99c sale within six months, then perhaps she knew what she was doing! I know some people like to be harrowed by their crime fiction, but I suspect that’s a relatively small number – the current massive rise in re-issues of classic crime suggests to me there’s a huge audience who’re not enjoying current offerings…

      This one is brilliant and I’m fairly sure it’s been pretty drastically altered in most of the adaptations, so you may find you’re still surprised by how it plays out… 😀

      • I’m looking forward to reading it! 🙂

        That’s a great point about how her books still sell. And her books are still being turned into movies and TV films and series. They’re even remaking Murder on the Orient Express, apparently. Kenneth Branagh is directing and I’m very curious.

        Perhaps there’s a bit of envy in the snobbishness. Her ability to construct plots and constantly surprise must be a rare mystery, or else more people would be doing it.

        • Yes, I’m looking forward to the new version of Murder on the Orient Express too – I hope they don’t mess with it too much, but I think Branagh tends to like to stay close to the originals. Yep, I always think people should be forced to read all of her books before being allowed to start writing a crime novel of their own… 😉

  10. This is my favourite Christie novel – at least so far, as I still have quite a lot of her books left to read. I’ve only read it once, so I’m pleased to hear that it’s just as enjoyable on a re-read when you already know the solution.

    • I think I read them all in my teens and twenties and have re-read many of my favourites zillions of times over the years. Partly I have a rubbish memory so I often forget whodunit, but actually I think most of them stand up to re-reading even if you do know the solution – it’s fun to see how cleverly she misleads… 😀

    • Definitely one of her best, I think – though I tend to think that about whatever one I last read! But this one is particularly dark which makes it stand out…

    • It’s one of those films I’ve seen so many bits of I feel like I’ve seen it, though actually I don’t think I’ve watched it all the way through – must do that! I think it’s based on the board game Cluedo, but Cluedo definitely is based on the Golden Age country house style of murder, so I can definitely see the similarities. Non-lamentable deaths are the real secret to entertaining crime – I wonder why so many authors seem to have forgotten that fact recently…

    • Isn’t it? She gets so much stick and yet every time I read one of her books I’m stunned all over again at just how good she is! Good to see you back… 🙂

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