And Then There Were None
by Agatha Christie
read in January 2018
1939. Europe teeters on the brink of war. Ten strangers are invited to Soldier Island, an isolated rock near the Devon coast. Cut off from the mainland, with their generous hosts Mr and Mrs U.N. Owen mysteriously absent, they are each accused of a terrible crime. When one of the party dies suddenly they realise they may be harbouring a murderer among their number.
The 10 strangers include a reckless playboy, a troubled Harley Street doctor, a formidable judge, an uncouth detective, an unscrupulous mercenary, a God-fearing spinster, two restless servants, a highly decorated general and an anxious secretary. One by one they are picked off. Who will survive? And who is the killer? Copies of an ominous nursery rhyme hang in each room, the murders mimicking the awful fates of its ‘Ten Little Soldier Boys’.
If And Then There Were None is the world’s favourite Agatha Christie book, I guess I won’t be reading any more of her work. Though I read this novel fairly quickly and was intrigued to unravel the mystery, the reveal was ultimately underwhelming.
When the BBC mini-series was aired a few years ago, I immediately purchased And Then There Were None because I wanted to read the book before watching the adaptation. Due to the large cast of characters, however, I quit reading after merely one chapter because I couldn’t keep them apart from one another.
I gave the novel a second chance by listening to the audiobook – which is narrated Dan Stevens, best known from his acting in Beauty and the Beast and Downton Abbey – which I quite enjoyed. Once again it took me a while to distinguish between the characters; taking notes really helped me with that and I was finally able to enjoy the story.
One by one, someone dies. I liked that the characters weren’t oblivious to what was going on and tried to figure out what was happening alongside the readers. Though I was intrigued to find out more, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat while reading. I didn’t care about the characters so I felt indifferent when they died. Sadly, I did find out right before reading this book who was going to be the last one standing.
Furthermore, the reveal kind of ruined the novel for me. Though I hadn’t expected it, the way we were told who was responsible, was quite underwhelming. And Then There Were None is such a well-acclaimed novel, so I had expected much more from this.
I realise that this book was written many decades ago, but I am nonetheless disappointed that reviewers didn’t mention that the culprit is clearly coded as having a mental illness. Over and over again, I have to read mystery novels in which someone with a disability (such as a mental illness) is the perpetrator, which is incredibly harmful. Yes, are there some mental illnesses where people might do horrible things as one of the symptoms, but in fiction it is 1) overrepresented and 2) vilified. As a result, when a white man kills hundreds of people, he is diagonalised as having a mental illness by the media without any proof whatsoever. I am very sensitive when it comes to this because I enjoy mystery novels from time to time, but I am tired of reading this harmful stereotype.
Additionally, multiple characters in And Then There Were None died by suicide. Sometimes, the descriptions were graphic, but I mainly had a problem with the fact that all of them committed suicide not because they e.g. had a mental illness and were depressed, but because they were embarrassed, felt guilty because of the crime they had committed, etc.
trigger and content warning for: racism, sexism, suicide, “suicide is a sin”, “being pregnant and unmarried is a sin”, murder, poisoning, shooting, drowning, death by being hit with heavy objects, ‘Jews’ instead of ‘Jewish’
Though I enjoyed reading And Then There Were None, it wasn’t very gripping and the reveal was disappointing. I would’ve preferred this mystery novel to include more for-shadowing, which would’ve made the reveal seem less sudden and anti-climactic.
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