First Published: Serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1939. Ten Little Niggers. Collins Crime Club, London, 1939. And Then There Were None Dood & Mead, New York, 1940. And an alternate US title Ten Little Indians for some editions.
I Read: And Then There Were None. William Morrow, New York, 2014.
Series: Not investigated by any particular detective.
people are lured to an isolated island under false pretenses. Unknown to
nine of them, one of their number is a murderer with a plan.
Review: This book is considered by most to be Christie’s masterpiece. And Then There Were None
is the mystery which propelled her to superstar status, with only
Shakespeare and the Bible outselling her body of works. With a plot
imitated the world over, this novel rules the number one spot each year
on Christie’s bestseller list (followed far behind generally by Ackroyd).
It took her two years to write and even she admitted the book wasn’t an
easy feat to create (and remember she was generally a two book a year
Yet I am still scratching my head about it. I think my bewilderment
stems from the fact this is a Christie which doesn’t feel like a
Christie to me. This book contains the highest body count to date of any
I’ve read so far and all I could think while reading it was the line No One Here Gets Out Alive
(incidentally it's the title of Jim Morrison’s biography). Focused,
brutal and unrelenting; not descriptions generally associated with The
Queen of Mystery. More of a thriller than a whodunit, this book doesn’t
really follow the Rules of Fair Play until the epilogue (not that all
her books did, just it’s surprising with the popularity of this title
that it does not). Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful book; I
devoured it in a few hours, I am just left a bit befuddled.
There is one line/solution which is commonly associated with Christie
and her canon, one which AND Then There Was None all most fufills. “The
Butler did it!”, I hear this cliche regularly attributed to Christie
and (just like the cake) it is a lie. Nowhere in the Christie canon did a
real butler actually commit the crime being investigated in the
narrative. The most entertaining aspect of this fallacy is the fact
Christie’s piece de resistance, And Then There Were None is the
second closest in her canon to fulfilling this cliche, yet it still
falls short. Mr. Rogers - the butler (no relation to the other Mr.
Rogers) - is accused of committing a murder, however his crime is rather
nebulous and is not central to the action of the plot. A fine line to
be sure but an important one.
The tree which bore this poisonous fruit sprung up across the pond
from Christie in the United States I am sad to say! The woman dubbed the
American Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart authored the mystery
from which this cliche sprung (let's code name it “The Portal” to avoid
spoilers). While that particular line, “The Butler did it!” evidently
was never written in the book, it has been boiled down to this singular
line which eventually morphed into a cliche and in turn has clung to the
genre like a suckerfish ever since.
Two years before Rinehart wrote “The Portal” and Christie and
compatriots founded The Detection Club an American mystery author
published a comprehensive set of rules. In 1928 S.S. Van Dine (in real
life Van Dine was an American art critic named Willard Huntington Wright
who was completely scandalized at his own success as a pulp author)
wrote an essay called Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Fiction.
Rule number 11 states that an author should not choose a servant to be
their killer. Why? Servants are entirely to obvious; due to the
privileged information they are often privy to and their wide access to
the household and/or the victim. Servants are an easy scapegoats and
require little on the part of the audience to deduce and even less
effort for the author to frame. While authors flout rules all the time
(like cats, they don’t enjoy to be dictated to) I think Rinehart should
have taken rule 11 to heart. While her fans liked “The Portal”, critics
gave it a lukewarm reception and it spawned this awful cliche; so in the
grand scheme of things I don’t think the book was a winner.
In hindsight, perhaps Rinehart wasn’t as far off the mark with “The
Portal’s” solution as we think. In a true believe-it-or-not moment, in
1947 seventeen years after her book was published, Rinhart was spending
some time at her vacation home in Maine. When her cook (named Reyes)
came into the library drew a pistol and attempted to shoot the author.
Fortunately (for the author) the gun misfired and Rinehart flew from the
room towards the servants wing, there the chauffeur was able to subdue
him. In a dramatic turn, while Rinehart was calling the police, the cook
broke free from the chauffeur and tried his luck again. This time he
attempted to stab her with some kitchen knives he’d grabbed. At this
point, the gardner alerted by the noise came to the aid of the chauffeur
and together they subdued the cook one last time. The Motive? Evidently
the cook had been in Rinehart's service for twenty-five years and had
his eye on the position of butler. When he was passed over for the
promotion and butling duties given to another he attacked the author.
While Rinehart made it through the ordeal unscathed, the cook committed
suicide the next day in his jail cell, and the butler Rinehart hired
over the cook? Hoofed out a window and went into town at the first sign
Still “The butler did it!”, lingers on in the minds of many often
wrongly attributed and propagated by people who have never cracked the
spine of a Christie (or a Rinehart for that matter) mystery. Perhaps
someday this idea will die a quiet death, it’s only been 84 years...It
Not to down play what happened to Rinehart....But do you know where
the safest place in a Christie mystery to hide in is? The kitchen! No
murder is ever committed in the kitchen anywhere in the Christie canon.
“Her heart certainly failed to beat...” (pg. 79)
“Thoughts that ran round in a circles like squirrels in a cage...” (pg. 159)
When I was little I used to love playing "Ring-Around-The-Rosie",
"London Bridge" and singing "Mary-Mary-Quite-Contrary". It wasn’t until
older that I stopped and really listen closely to the words that they
started to sound a bit peculiar (well a PBS documentary helped).
Seriously "Rosie" is associated with an outbreak of the Black Death in
London in 1665 which killed around 15% of London’s residents (Btw there
is a new-ish theory that rats didn’t really spread the plague. One piece
of evidence? There aren’t corresponding number of rat skeletons in
houses with plague victims that archeologists have excavated. Hey don’t
yell at me, yell at a science!). "London Bridge" has a whole host of
ideas on its origins. The most gruesome? Human sacrifice. The theory is
children were buried alive in the foundation when it was laid so the
bridge would never fall (it didn’t really seem to help since the bridge
burned several times over the years). Way to embrace science guys.
Lastly, "Mary-Mary" is thought to be about Bloody Mary (Mary I) who
executed several hundred people generally by burning them. Not someone
you ever wanted to get on the wrong side of. So all in all nursery
rhymes while fun to sing and dance around to, really don’t need a whole
bunch of help in feeling malevolent
However Christie was more than willing to lend a helping hand! And The There Were None was
the first full length novel to feature this plot device (I believe) and
wow did she use it! Interestingly enough the poem Christie used had two
endings, one slightly more optimistic than the other (again not saying
the two variants, spoilers). "Waste not, want not" as the saying goes;
Christie used both the poem’s endings one in the book and the other when
she adapted it for the stage. This particular title was the very first
to be adapted into four different mediums (besides book form obviously)
stage, radio, television and film. Generally speaking the mass media
versions chose to feature the “happier” of the two endings, but not
always (the Soviets when they were Soviet Union opted for the gloomy).
Christie followed up this highly successful nursery rhyme crime by penning One Two Buckle My Shoe, N or M (featured a rhyme in the plot), Five Little Pigs, Crooked House, Pocket Full of Rye, Ordeal By Innocence, Three Blind Mice (technically a play) and Hickory Dickory Dock
over the next sixteen-ish years. Each rhyme did their part in helping
create a singularly creepy atmosphere in the stories for which they
placed (in the ones I have read so far). Christie obviously saw
something in these bits of childhood fluff which she could deftly twist
into something rather wicked. Brilliant.
Cheating: I will give you a Clue, unlike Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum and Mrs. White I am not guilty of any crime!
(btw you really should watch this cult classic)