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?
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.
Meet the Dame
Visit Christie's official website to get the scoop on the master of mystery.
Put Your Game Face On
If you prefer mashing buttons to reading, you can also live out the Agatha Christie classic novel in video game form.
Head on over to HarperCollins to see the publisher’s take on this prolific author.
Read All About It
Pick up your very own copy of And Then There Were None here. Just don’t blame us when you’re too scared to turn out the lights.
You can’t say no to the 1945 old-school adaptation of the book where one of the characters is wearing a monocle, can you? After all, nothing says, “murder mystery” like antiquated eyewear.
Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (1965)
The 1965 UK adaptation Ten Little Indians still goes by one of the original titles of And Then There Were None.
The absolute highlight of the 1974 Ten Little Indians is that Orson Welles plays the voice of U.N. Owen.
Thoroughly Modern Mystery
In 2001, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation did an episode based off of this classic mystery.
What’s on Next
If Agatha Christie’s life still feels a bit mysterious to you, be sure to check out this NPR article about her life.
Everyone’s a Critic
If you want to see what The New York Times and The Toronto Star Daily had to say about And Then There Were None in 1940, mosey on over here.
In Eerie Black and White
Check out the trailer of the 1945 version of And Then There Were None here.
The 1974 trailer of And Then There Were None is quite dramatic. Everyone does have some groovy 70s haircuts to show off, though.
Streaming Live From the BBC
Step in the wayback machine and listen to this Agatha Christie interview from 1955.
Books for Your Ears
If you don’t truck with this new-fangled television, check out the old-school radio-mystery-style audio version of And Then There Were None.
Feast your eyes on Burgh Island, the inspiration for Soldier Island.
There have been some creepy old covers for versions of And Then There Were None.
Pacing the Drawing Room
In this screenshot of the 1945 film, everyone’s obviously getting a little nervous about the whole Soldier Island affair.