Publication Date: November 6, 1939
Length: 272 pages
In my last Agatha Christie review I said I wasn't sure if I was ever going to like her books. This one changed my mind! It was unique, full of plot twists, and kept me guessing. So I have decided I'll continue to give her another try and see what everyone loves so much about her novels. True, the ending to this book is fantastical and mind bending, but then a lot of the novels I read require suspension of belief in order to appreciate the way the author explains events. And she used all of her imagination for this one. I read somewhere that she said this was her hardest novel to write and that she hoped she'd done a good job. I think she succeeded.
When eight people are summoned to a small island off the coast of England for a luxurious summer vacation, they are simultaneously excited and apprehensive. The host of the mansion is mysterious and vague as to who they are and why they are inviting the guests. Calling himself Mr. Owen in his correspondence, he gives little information as to why the people were chosen, only that he invites them to come and stay for rest and relaxation. Selfish and unconcerned, the guests only focus on their privilege at being invited and do not seem to care that the requests are random and odd.
Upon arrival they meet the caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers who also have not met Mr. Owen. They were employed to care for the guests and after a lovely dinner everyone is contented and visiting, enjoying each other's company. Suddenly, a voice interrupts the pleasantries to announce that each person on the island has been charged with indictments of murder. After the initial shock subsides, the guests investigate and discover that a gramophone in an adjoining room is the source of the voice. They immediately begin arguing as to who might have set up this uncomfortable arrangement. As they continue their musings, one guest collapses and dies. The horror has begun. Over the next few days, one by one, guests of the island begin to die. Those left alive each time are forced to attempt to discover how and why and what is to be done to save themselves.
It is hard to review this book without giving away too much. I know that is why I had a hard time with the previous Christie book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, because I'd read way too many thoughts on it before I started and that led me to figuring out the ending prematurely. I hate that. So I won't say much more in my summary. But it is more than worth the wait and I highly recommend you take your time and savor the story. Sometimes I have a tendency to rush through a book like this because I'm just dying (no pun intended) to see whodunit. But this book is already a short read with easy prose and I was able to wait it out. It is creepy, original, and I actually found myself a little disturbed at the end.
I've always seen Christie as old fashioned and a bit innocent, the cozy mystery type. Not this book. It was not one I enjoyed reading in the dark before bed. Something about the helplessness of the characters, even though most are morally corrupt enough that you don't feel much pity for them, made me desperate for them to find a solution and get off that island alive. It stayed with me long after I finished and that typically doesn't happen with these types of stories.
I didn't care for some of the style of the story. The short, choppy sentences, the way she continually writes "she said:" and "he said:" over and over again, with the character's name inserted instead of she or he. It was very distracting and unnecessary to keep repeating it. I also was a bit annoyed by some of the sections being so short that they really didn't require Roman numerals to separate them. These were just some odd thoughts and annoyances I had as I read.
If you haven't read anything by this author yet I think starting here is a good idea. This book focuses heavily on the mystery and the psychological aspect of the characters rather than setting up the detective as the central focus. Her Poirot and Marple series are obviously going to be more about them and how they solve their cases and if you don't like their personalities you aren't going to enjoy the books much. And Then There Were None is a stand alone novel as far as I know and so you don't commit to a certain character throughout. I am excited and relieved that I have found a Christie book I liked and will continue to try others. I just knew all these millions of readers had to be on to something, I think I just had to get used to her way of writing. Miss Marple's Caribbean mystery is waiting in my Kindle so I'm going to get going on it soon.