And Then There Were None
Welcome! You and nine strangers have just arrived in a mansion on an isolated island, having received invitations from various acquaintances or someone named U.N. Owen. Because that’s not creepy.
Anyway, bring out the glowsticks and fizzy drinks, because you are here to paaaartay. Only it looks like your definition of “party” might be just a wee bit different from your hosts. Turns out, you’re actually here for a game.
A game where your life is at stake.
That’s the basic setup for one of mystery writer Agatha Christie’s best-known and oft-parodied works, And Then There Were None, originally titled (NSFW language) Ten Little Indians or Ten Little N*****s. (It was a different and uglier time.) One by one, each of the guests is accused of a different murder and then slowly picked off in accordance with an old nursery rhyme about “ten little soldiers.”
As the characters race to figure out who among them is the culprit, we have to try to piece together the clues, red herrings, and that frustrating and creepy poem. If this all sounds like a gripping page-turner, you’d be right: And Then There Were None is a classic mystery that’ll keep you on your toes and have you looking over your shoulder while you’re reading it.
But it’s not all fun and games. Besides the usual romp to find a killer before he finds you, the book also grapples with the idea of justice. Is it justified that someone else is killing off all these people because they (spoiler alert) committed crimes? Is it okay for someone to take justice into his or her own hands?
No wonder this book was adapted into radio almost as soon as it was published in 1939, or that there are well over a dozen film, radio, TV, and even game adaptations. Consider this: Agatha Christie has sold two-billion-plus books, putting her behind only Will Shakespeare and the Bible. Can two billion readers be wrong?
Why Should I Care?
Um, because if you’re ever stuck on an island with a bunch of (possibly) murderous criminals, wouldn’t you want to know how to survive?
No but seriously. And Then There Were None is one of those texts that’s so foundational, you’re missing out on a big chunk of pop culture if you haven’t read it. (Or, ahem, at least skimmed the Shmoop learning module.) There’s even a Family Guy episode called “And Then There Were Fewer” in which everyone is invited to (you guessed it!) an isolated island mansion and slowly killed off. Or take the idea of a killer who uses some kind of creepy nursery rhyme or some existing common list in order to decide the order of his or her victims—like the guy in Se7en, who tracks down victims based off of the seven deadly sins.
But you know what? You don’t have to ever turn on the TV or pick up another book to enjoy And Then There Were None. Christie is a master of her form, stringing us along as we race to the end of the book to see who—if anyone—makes it out alive.
If you think that no book could be as exciting or horrifying as a movie, just try putting this one down.