Nataliya's Reviews > And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
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Oct 31, 12

bookshelves: i-also-saw-the-film, 2012-reads
Read from October 14 to 21, 2012


This lovely mystery book is first and foremost about the administration of the long-overdue justice, right? At least that's what the mastermind behind it all believes.

But the question is - who has the right to decide what justice is? And who is to decide what punishment serves the crime? And is perceived justice at all costs the ultimate goal, or is it the frequently pointless work of a maniac? As a matter of fact, what is justice after all?



I think the story of this book (the one that may win the contest for the most offensive original title, after all) is familiar to most readers. It is a lovely and fascinating idea. Ten people are lured onto a remote island under false pretenses just to realize that they are all about to be punished by death for the 'crimes' that they have committed in the past and have gotten away with. Killed in a manner predicted by a silly yet ominous children's poem with the conclusion of "... and then there were none". What's more, they come to realize that the mastermind - or maniac? - has to be among them. And the (very polite, in the traditional British way) game of survival begins, complete with all the necessary societal rituals¹ and classism² that are not disposed of even under the threat of imminent demise.
¹The politeness and overt show of respect to one another even in the face of imminent murder by someone in their midst - because, of course, you would not want to offend anyone. Continuing to socialize and take meals together. Insisting on chivalry when a woman could be the murderer just as well as a man ((view spoiler)) - these are just some of the examples.

² Just think of everyone expecting the impeccable service by the butler even though HIS WIFE JUST DIED! Everyone deciding to stick together and be careful - but never including the servants in it. The belief by some that people of 'proper class' would be incapable of murder ((view spoiler)). The list can go on and on. And all of these assumptions prove to be wrong.



And as, despite the precautions, the number of people trapped on the island continues to decline, the uneasy tension sets in, and the impeccable facades begin to crack.
"The oth­ers went up­stairs, a slow unwilling pro­ces­sion. If this had been an old house, with creak­ing wood, and dark shad­ows, and heav­ily pan­elled walls, there might have been an eerie feel­ing. But this house was the essence of moder­ni­ty. There were no dark corners - ​no possi­ble slid­ing pan­els - it was flood­ed with elec­tric light - everything was new and bright and shining. There was nothing hid­den in this house, noth­ing con­cealed. It had no at­mo­sphere about it. Some­how, that was the most fright­en­ing thing of all. They ex­changed good-​nights on the up­per land­ing. Each of them went in­to his or her own room, and each of them automatical­ly, al­most with­out con­scious thought, locked the door."

The story is captivating and very smart, and the ending had me baffled for a bit the first time I read it. It has a neat resolution despite an obvious plot hole (view spoiler). It's an enjoyable read to say the least.

But what made me unsettled both of the times I read it was the nagging question of justice, as I mentioned above. Yes, on one hand, it's almost poetic justice to punish the criminals who thought they got away with it. On the other hand, is eye-for-an-eye the best way to get even? And who's to judge, anyway? Who is either conceited enough or deranged enough to assume that he has the right and the moral authority to determine guilt and the extent of punishment just like that?



Don't get me wrong - the people accused on the island are undeniably guilty (even though it's not necessarily murder as we think of for some of them - Vera Claythorne is really guilty of neglect, albeit with a desire to kill, and Emily Brent is pretty much guilty of being a judgmental über-righteous heartless prude). But the degree of their guilt varies quite significantly in my perception, and it does not always coincide with what their 'unknown' judge/executioner thinks (running two children over with a car and feeling no remorse is to me worse than firing a pregnant servant who then goes on to kill herself, for instance). And is arbitrarily and single-handedly determining their guilt and doling out punishments not just as much (or even much worse) or a crime than they have committed? Conceited, self-righteous crime? Decide for yourself.



Speaking of guilt - this novel has quite a bit to say on this subject. You see, many of the characters have already been judged and condemned by their own selves. Vera Claythorne and General Macarthur both are tormented by their guilt (and (view spoiler)). Interestingly, others, no less guilty, are not tormented by their conscience at all. But ultimately this does not matter at all for their survival; only the fact that they were deemed guilty ((view spoiler)). So should being tormented by guilt versus a cold-blooded killer factor at all in the administration of justice?

These are the thoughts that kept running through my head as I was reading this excellent non-traditional critically-acclaimed specimen of mystery literature. And therefore bravo to Miss Christie for making me think and care - and not just mindlessly flipping pages to get to the bottom of the whodunit. Because 'WHO' was much less important to me than 'HOW' and 'WHY' - especially 'WHY'.

For all of this, I give it the unflinching guilt-free 4 stars.
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Comments (showing 1-33 of 33) (33 new)

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Ceecee I still remember the palpitations I had while reading this. whew! again, love the review, nataliya! :)


Nataliya Thanks, Ceecee! I hope your palpitations were short-lived and resolved with the book's ending ;)


message 3: by Casey (new)

Casey Anderson I like your reviews. I started following them. However either you read amazingly fast or you're reviewing books you finished awhile ago. If you actually read that fast, I am envious. Anyway, thanks for the detailed reviews it's going to help contribute to what I read from now on I think.


Ceecee Nataliya wrote: "Thanks, Ceecee! I hope your palpitations were short-lived and resolved with the book's ending ;)"

Yeah, but reading your review, or just remembering this book brings back the palpitations! lol
I kind of enjoy the palpitations though, I rarely read or watch suspense thrillers. ;p


Anthony Snow I remember reading this book in Middle School English. Started a small love affair with this author. This and Murder on the Orient Express are her best works IMO.


Nataliya Casey wrote: "I like your reviews. I started following them. However either you read amazingly fast or you're reviewing books you finished awhile ago. If you actually read that fast, I am envious. Anyway, thanks..."

I mostly review those that I've read or reread recently with a few exceptions. I actually have several books that I've recently read and haven't reviewed yet, as well as so many from last year and early this year. I've always been quite a fast reader; I'm actually much slower now because being tired after work turns my brain to mush.


Sesana Excellent review. I don't read many murder mysteries, but I really liked this one.


Staci Hart The last 30 pages of this book had all the hair standing up on my neck. It's like a hitchcock movie in book form. So great! Very thorough review :)


Steve It was a long time ago that I read this, but your review was so comprehensive (and good), that the memories came flooding back.

When I saw your reference to the offensive title, I was slightly confused. When I read the book, it was called Ten Little Indians. That didn't seem so bad. Then I clicked to see the the title predating that one -- now that was bad!


Nataliya Thanks, guys!

@Steve - yes, that's what the original British title was - it was quickly changed in the American edition, and went through the second change a few decades later.


Jeffrey Keeten This was the first Christie I ever read and it was called Ten Little Indians. I reread it a few years ago as And Then There Were None which is my preferred title. As Steve and you alluded to the original title is just unbelievably unPC. Because it was my first Christie I am fond of it and felt in rereading it that it held up just fine. Great review as always Nataliya.


Nataliya Veeral wrote: "Great review, Nataliya.

I have this book with the original offensive title. It is 1978 Fontana paperback edition (printed in Great Britain) bought by my dad in the same year. The nursery rhyme has..."


I watched the Soviet movie with the original title (and read it the first time around in Russian as well with this title) - but in Russian it does not carry the same connotation as it does in America, which can be expected given linguistic and cultural differences. I love the 'new title' much more, however - even if I try to take the offensiveness out of it (which is pretty much impossible!) the 'And Then There Were None' just fits the mood of the book so much better.


message 13: by Nandakishore (last edited Nov 01, 2012 09:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nandakishore Varma I remember reading it at the same time as my aunt, who is also a Christie fan. She hated the book, while I loved it.

Of course, I could hazard a guess as to the likely culprit... but the book threw me off course towards the end. And the ending is just brilliant.

Lovely review, as always, Nataliya.


message 14: by Henry (new) - added it

Henry Avila Read it a couple of years ago . Christie's most popular book.Fun if you disregard the killings.By the way and as always great review,Nataliya.


Nataliya Nandakishore wrote: "I remember reading it at the same time as my aunt, who is also a Christie fan. She hated the book, while I loved it.

Of course, I could hazard a guess as to the likely culprit... but the book thr..."


Thanks, Nandakishore!
I guessed the culprit at some point, too - but then, of course, was promptly tricked by Christie into discarding that guess. But so quickly the book became much more than trying to guess the murderer - and instead marveling at Christie's depicting the resulting situation of a polite society cracking under the idea or an invisible ruthless killer in their midst.
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Henry wrote: "Read it a couple of years ago . Christie's most popular book.Fun if you disregard the killings.By the way and as always great review,Nataliya."

Thanks, Henry. This is one of her best known, together with the Orient Express one - another example of an unexpected revelation in the end. Which reminds me that I would love to revisit that one as well.


David "proud member of Branwen's adventuring party" Brilliant and insightful review as always, Nataliya :)

I recently wrote a review about this book myself, as I talked about what a profound effect it had on me as a kid (I think I was around 10 years old when I read it). One of the elements that always stuck with me about this book was how the killer was clearly deranged, yet from his/her point of view, he/she was simply “meting out justice”! Before reading this book, I had grown up on sanitized mysteries like The Hardy Boys, where right and wrong were clearly defined. Yet (as you beautifully detailed in your review), this book delves into such morally dubious territory, where we find ourselves rooting for people who are hardly “innocent”, yet still don’t deserve to be played as pawns in some sadistic game.

I had already been reading quite a bit before experiencing Agatha Christie, but this was the book that changed reading from a hobby into a passion for me!


Nataliya David wrote: "Brilliant and insightful review as always, Nataliya :)

I recently wrote a review about this book myself, as I talked about what a profound effect it had on me as a kid (I think I was around 10 yea..."


Thanks, David! I can imagine how this approach to murder mystery would be earth-shattering to a young child, being a great introduction to the world where things are not really clear-cut. I'm glad this book made you a reader, it deserves all the praise just for that :)


Fiona Oh, this is why I loved And Then There Were None as well. I remember listening to it on audiobook when I was in my very early teens and being creeped out, but it is the idea of justice that really got to me. Did you ever read Curtain: Poirot's Last Case? It's got a similar sort of theme to it, and it really made me wonder whether this sort of thing that is essentially vigilantism is an idea she's playing with or something she genuinely believed in.

Also, the stage version of ATTWN has the last two 'victims' survive (and, ah, get married, because of course). Apparently Christie adapted it herself, and didn't think that the original ending would appeal to theatre audiences. I'm not sure what I think about that. I much prefer the book ending, partly because having those particular two survive seems to me to miss the point a bit, or to dilute it at the very least.

Great review, though - reminds me why I love this book.


Nataliya Fiona wrote: "Oh, this is why I loved And Then There Were None as well. I remember listening to it on audiobook when I was in my very early teens and being creeped out, but it is the idea of justice that really..."

I can't believe the stage version of this book would have the last two survive! It really goes against the rest of the story, and really misses the point. I know for sure I would not have enjoyed it this much if the ending were to be like that.

I never read "Curtain" - I read most of Poirot books, but somewhere a few dozen in I realized that I really was getting tired of them - after that many books, it was becoming quite predictable and repetitive, and so I stopped. I wonder if I can pick them up again, having had a break of quite a few years.


Fiona Nataliya wrote: "Fiona wrote: "Oh, this is why I loved And Then There Were None as well. I remember listening to it on audiobook when I was in my very early teens and being creeped out, but it is the idea of justi..."

Yes, I see what you mean. It is a bit easy to overdose! But there are a few that are just stunning: Roger, Ackroyd, Death on the Nile, and I think Curtain is one of them if you happen to find a copy.


Nataliya Fiona wrote: "Yes, I see what you mean. It is a bit easy to overdose! But there are a few that are just stunning: Roger, Ackroyd, Death on the Nile, and I think Curtain is one of them if you happen to find a copy."

I will put it on my 2013 to-read list then. Dear library, here I come!


message 22: by Rajrupa (new)

Rajrupa Roy guys, therer some forgotten golden age mystery writers who wrote better than christie ...such as arthur j rees, s s van dine, etc. :-), m busy discovering them as i am a grown up. i finished all of Christie in high school...her writing suited for a high schooler but yes too much fun n enjoyable :-)


Nataliya Rajrupa wrote: "guys, therer some forgotten golden age mystery writers who wrote better than christie ...such as arthur j rees, s s van dine, etc. :-), m busy discovering them as i am a grown up. i finished all of..."

I haven't ever heard of the authors you mention - maybe because I'm not a big mystery genre reader. But maybe if I some day stumble upon a book by them I'll give it a try.


message 24: by Alan (new)

Alan Sheinwald This is not a book I would normally pick up but it definitely sounds interesting.


Skandha the best review on this book, I should say. right when you pointed the British way - a man's wife is dead and yet he is to serve everyone else and be excluded from the so called safety zone owing to the only fact that he was a butler.. interesting thoughts on how 1 man can form a jury..

that said, I felt it wasn't a bad thing that the judge did not find it bad to have a bed with the others. murder was his self fascination, got a valid justification and was prepared to take up death - he convicts himself, for whatever he has done, is right or wrong. calls it a death amidst life.

too interesting to discuss on.. a cool book on the whole ;)


Cindy I remember a movie about this story made maybe in the 1940s or 50s that actually had a happy ending!


Nataliya Cindy wrote: "I remember a movie about this story made maybe in the 1940s or 50s that actually had a happy ending!"

I am not surprised. It's tempting to slap a happy ending on this story, given that you start feeling attached to the characters after a while. But happy ending would take away quite a bit of the strength of this book.


Shelley Great review. Re: your plot hole, I don't think the people who investigated the crime after the original 10 had died knew that he wasn't supposed to have died on that bed.


gooby May I ask which one of the movie adaptations did you watch?


Nataliya gooby wrote: "May I ask which one of the movie adaptations did you watch?"

The Russian one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfZASN...


Cindy I can't remember, it was a long time ago. It was a black & white though.


gooby I'm probably going to watch the one from 1945..


message 33: by Penina (new)

Penina Mezei The Russian is a good one Penina Mezei


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