Notes On And Then There Were None

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1939

Motive for Murder: Justice (?)

Plot:  Ten strangers arrive on ‘free holiday’ in Soldier Island, Devon. In the first evening after the dinner, their jolly mood suddenly change. A recorded voice then announces each name and the crime committed; all of them have slipped out of the justice radar. Afterwards, the night claims a life.

The next day begins and so does the terror. Stranded on an island in a stormy weather, more lives are taken as days pass. Suspicions among the remaining party are inevitable, for they come to realise one of them is the murderer. But who; a retired judge, an ex-Chief Inspector Detective (CID), a doctor or an elderly puritan woman?

Ten people were to spend a leisure time in an island that had  become a sensation in the media. For the speculation is rife as regard to the identity of its mysterious owner, Mr. Owen.

Ten dead bodies are found and only one of them, who would have been able to tell who had killed the people.

 

Highlights:

A wholesale murder seems to be the recipe of the great success behind the plot, for the title has proved to be one of Christie’s most popular books to date. Furthermore, the controversy surrounding its original title ‘Ten Little Niggers,’ of which then she had to bend to the pressure of altering it to a more politically correct one some time later. Hence And Then There Were None, the title taken from the last words in the nursery rhymes concerned (see Clues). I wonder if the title might have been ‘Murders in Summer’ due to her choice of timing on 8th August, the day the ‘ten  little soldiers’ go on a boat to the island without the slightest idea of their fate.

‘Ten Little Indians’ movie poster; the film adaptation of the novel released in 1974. Richard Attenborough, who starred in it, also played in The Mousetrap.  

On the onset, the treacherous English summer intriguingly provides the drama the plot required. For an old man on the train laments about the chance of thundering to William Blore: ‘I am talking to you, young man. The day of judgment is very close at hand.’ Astounded, the ex-CID man thought otherwise. He should have taken the other’s words seriously.

The first man ‘sentenced’, Anthony Marston, is a man in his prime; healthy and full life. He choked as he was gulping down his drink after he had admitted to have run over two people and caused their deaths. Quickly dismissed such an accident, it is apparent that he does not feel sorry to his reckless behaviour.

When the cook, Mrs. Rogers, is found ‘died in her sleep,’the court of inquiry proceeded by Judge Redgrave commences. Bubbles of thoughts floated in everyone’s mind as they went to bed in the previous night. By the end of the second day the eight people left realise that there is no way they can leave the island.  The boat would not come for them while the gathering clouds in the sky turns the weather for the worse. Meanwhile, each of them starts to see one another in a different light.

I applaud Christie’s craft in suspense and irony. A serene surrounding, a comfortable and luxurious accommodation, plenty of food and in the company of agreeable group of people, albeit strangers. What could go wrong?   Little do they realise the ‘temperament’ some of them have; the urge to kill and guilt. Survival for the fittest is put to a test. More importantly, confessions are made, acknowledging the injustice and malicious intentions behind a seemingly normal decision. As a storm is on its way they become seven. Old General John MacArthur –what a name!- is hit on the head from behind.

Until the end of the first reading, personally everything passes in blur. One by one they are gone in accordance with the nursery rhyme. Here is the irony of childish lines; Christie’s little jokes about crimes that go unpunished but later on justice will find its way regardless the length of time.  Nonetheless, in the second reading, it is most fascinating how reverse logic works in a situation; the trick of the brain that corrupts reality. At any rate she controls the balance well in the narration.

Parts of ‘Ten Little Niggers’ Nursery Rhyme

The presence of three women characters; a puritan woman, a governess/secretary and a cook/housemaid against seven men is most interesting. Mrs. Rogers who dies second is felt more or less it is not being there at all, having no voice but observed by Emily Brent, the puritan, clearly ridden by guilt. Two women left and the sisterhood is formed. Yet Vera Claythorne is rather taken aback by  Brent’ confession about the pregnant girl she threw out of her house. To my mind Brent slightly bears traits of Honoria Waynflete (Murder Is Easy) and Claythorne’s way of recollecting events resemble Elinor Carlisle (Sad Cypress).

What I like most from the choice of the people is their background profession; police, judge, servants, governess, a spinster(see The Most Fascinating Character), a doctor, a very proud man, an ex Army General and a hunter who cares money most. Although I suspect the reason of Christie having omitted an ex-nurse/dispenser is personal (she is an ex-VAD [Voluntary Aid Detachment] in the First World War).

I have found it extremely hard to imagine that someone –the Mastermind in the book- actually enjoys the role of creating havoc and terrors and most importantly kill them (although the other does the job for the Master for a murder). An invitee, however, has suspected who the Mastermind is all along. Yet the villain, as wicked as the murderer of Roger Ackryod, anticipates it and then ends the life with a little trick with the help of another.

I suppose the power of some of the character’s words linger owing to their double meaning. What sounds natural in a sentence or a phrase would soon turned the other way round when pondered over.  While they make readers shudder, the authoress has achieved to have created in seeing murders from a different angle. That indeed it might be easy, particularly when such is done quietly and executed under the eye of others – or at least is what they thought.

In spite of the great things about the book, I am a little uneasy about the ending: a confession through a letter of the whole plot. On the one hand it serves to fill the gaps in the police investigation. On the other, I think the writing before a suicide is not my cup of tea – a rather coward act in fact. He should have told at least the person who had suspected him while still alive. What do you think?

 

The Twists:

-The ten people invited never meet neither the host nor the hostess before

-Some of the deceased then wrote their account of events in their diaries

– Mr. Isaac Morris dies on the night of 8th August from sleeping draught.

 

Cast of Characters:

 

 

‘Ten Little Soldiers’:

Anthony Marston – had a telegraph from his friend, Badger Berkeley, who was telling him to come to the island

Dr. Edward Amstrong – a Harley Street doctor, who received a letter with a more than adequate sum of money for his consultation fee to come for Mrs. Owen’s sake.

Emily Brent – a sixty-five-year-old woman, who had a letter from U.N.O (presumably Mrs. Owen), whom inviting her to spend time in a a new guess house Mrs. Owen has just opened on the island

Richard Attenborough, who starred in the 1974’s movie adaptation

Ethel Rogers – came with her husband, Thomas, as a cook and housemaid for the party

General John Macarthur – had a letter telling him that some of his old friends would have been on the island and he was to join them

Justice Lawrence Wargrave – a retired judge; he received a letter from his friend Lady Constance Cummington about coming to Soldier Island

Thomas Rogers – Ethel’s husband, a butler for the party

Philip Lombard – was offered a hundred guineas to travel to Sticklehaven in Devon and to spend a week on the island

Vera Claythorne – was offered a secretarial holiday job by Una Nancy Owen

William Blore – an ex-CID that becomes a private detective. A handsome amount of money was offered in exchange of watching the other nine invitees.

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Emily Brent

 

‘Emily Caroline Brent, that upon the 5th of November, 1931, you were responsible for the death of Beatrice Taylor’

Having her crime being announced, she says: ‘Are you waiting for me to say something? I have nothing to say.’ To which Judge Redgrave responds: ‘You reserve your defence?’ She replies: ‘There is no question of defence. I have always acted in accordance with the dictates of my conscience. I have nothing with which to reproach myself.’

There is no qualm in her words nor uneasiness in her eyes, although she does not deny the ‘charge’ upon her. For she used to know Beatrice Taylor, who then committed suicide by throwing herself into the river. She was apparently employed as a maid by  God-fearing Brent but asked to leave no sooner than Brent had found about her expecting a baby out of wedlock. As a result, Taylor killed herself out of desperation, for her parents already shunned her and she had nowhere to turn to but her employer.

To Vera Claythorne she admits having prompted Taylor’s death – women to women.  After which Claythorne responds: ‘But if your hardness –drove her to it.’

Brent’s reply: ‘Her (Taylor) own action – her own sin- that was what drove her to it. If she had behaved like a decent modest young woman none of this would have happened.’

(Quoted from the book) The little elderly spinster was no longer slightly ridiculous to Vera. Suddenly – she was terrible.

Brent is easily lured to come to the island as the sender claimed to have known her at a premises where they used to work. Brent ignores the fact that she does not actually know who ‘U.N.O.’ was. The signature is unclear, yet she reckoned it must have been Mrs. Oliver’s. Her being in a tight money situation sees the opportunity for a dream holiday. If only she knew that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Six little soldier boys playing with a hive;

A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.

A death ‘stung’ by a bee is surely the least expected thing on a holiday.

Nonetheless, i the justice done this way?

 

Clues:

 

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine;

One choked his little self and then there were Nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late;

One overslept himself and then there were Eight.

Eight little soldier boys travelling in Devon;

One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.

Seven little soldier boys chopping up sticks;

One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.

Six little soldier boys playing with a hive;

A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.

Five little soldier boys going in for law;

One got in Chancery and then there were Four.

Four little soldier boys going out to sea;

A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

Three little soldier boys walking in the Zoo;

A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.

Two little soldier boys sitting in the sun;

One got frizzled up and then there was One.

One little soldier boy left all alone;

He went and hanged himself and then there were None.

 

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