Vera Claythorne lasts the longest in the not-so-fun game that Justice Wargrave has laid out for his guests, but it’s not because she’s a levelheaded girl who knows how to keep calm in a difficult situation. (Well, it might be partly that). But more, it’s because her sordid secret is the ugliest in a whole mansion full of ugly secrets: she let a little boy drown so that his uncle slash her lover could inherit all the money.
Fun fact: “Vera” means “faith” or “constancy.” We’re sensing just a little irony here, so let’s take a closer look at this not-so-faithful lady.
When Philip Lombard first sees Vera in the train, he’s pretty impressed: “A cool customer, he should imagine—and one who could hold her own—in love or war. He’d rather like to take her on” (1.25). Yeah, good luck with that, Phil.
As smarmy as the guy is, he’s right: Vera is a very cool customer. Sure, the murders rattle her, but she stays levelheaded and doesn’t act stupidly. Even when the piece of seaweed hits her in the face, her first response is to ask Lombard to open a new bottle of brandy for her. Okay, that may not sound too smart, but hear us out: the point is that she won’t trust an already opened bottle.
See? Pretty smart.
Vera is also smart enough to make some serious deductions about her fellow guests. Maybe this stems from her usual calculating nature—after all, she was cold and calculating enough to let Cyril drown in order for Hugo to inherit money—but it comes in handy while she’s on Soldier Island. When she tells Lombard that she thinks Dr. Armstrong is behind everything, she even takes into account that he can lie to them about the bodies and causes of death because he’s the only medical professional. She’s wrong, but it’s still solid reasoning.
Despite her too cool for school attitude, Vera has a dark past. Here’s the story: she once worked as a governess for a young boy named Cyril. This kid had a hot uncle named Hugo (guess the family has stock in the Uptight British Names Company). Naturally, Vera is in love with Hugo, and also naturally Hugo is broke as a joke—unless Cyril dies, in which case Hugo will inherit all the money.
Now, Vera doesn’t exactly hold Cyril’s head under water, but she definitely does let him swim out too far and drown. No one suspects—in fact, it’s just the opposite:
He [the Coroner] had even complimented her on her presence of mind and courage, she remembered. For an inquest it couldn’t have gone better. And Mrs. Hamilton had been kindness itself to her—only Hugo—but she wouldn’t think of Hugo. (1.16)
Thing is, Vera is lying to herself here. She thinks about this day all the time—in fact, her inability to stop thinking it leads to her death. Unlike the other characters, she doesn’t technically die at the hands of Mr. Justice Wargrave. She dies of her own volition, thinking that Hugo would have wanted it.
Talk about the perfect murder.