Monday, September 19, 2011

And Then There Were None (Ten Little Indians), by Agatha Christie


One of my favorite Christie mysteries. I think Christie may be one of the first, if not the first, to combine serial murder with the "murder at a country house" trope to create the "countdown" murder--that is, the murder one-by-one of persons in an isolated group. This concept maximizes the drama and tension in the story, as each suspect is "exonerated" by his or her own murder. Tying in the old children's rhyme ("Ten Little Indians") as a symbol (and prophecy) of the countdown murders adds an element of deliberation and psychosis to the murders, and the juxtaposition of the innocent (a children's rhyme) with the horrific (serial murder) is chilling. Christie further complicates the tale by making all her victims murderers in their own right, and possibly deserving of their fate. This knowledge of guilt amplifies their terror and increases the tension.

As is often the case with works like this, it takes a while to get a handle on who everyone is--the reader is immediately introduced to 11 people (the 10 visitors to Indian Island and the boatman), and although most editions include a cast of characters at the start of the book, it can be difficult to keep track. However, as the characters move through the story, they become more distinct. Or are killed off.

All in all, it's a fun read, and fast, and Christie's solution is clever and creative. I'm not entirely sure whether the reader is given enough information to actually solve the murders on his or her own, so in that sense it may contravene the "rules" of good detective fiction, but it's still an awfully enjoyable book.

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