Ten Little Indians (And Then There Were None) by Agatha Christie

I don’t like murder mysteries because I don’t enjoy contemplating early deaths. Any justice achieved at the end of the story is rather after the fact for at least one victim. And Then There Were None is no exception.

However, in part because it is the celebrated work of a celebrated author, I’m not sorry I read it. For more thoughts on the the book (no big spoilers), see below.

The island guests in the book are dispatched in a way that takes their level of culpability into account—some are killed more quickly and gently than others. The murderer, who is punishing the guests for their crimes, apparently believes that it is more excusable to hurt others by being oblivious or weak than to intentionally hurt others for personal gain.

However, I wonder whether people who cause death nonchalantly aren’t in fact more despicable… and more dangerous. Their actions are not dictated by reason, and they can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel guilty like those who knowingly kill. Who is to be feared more, the loose canon or the calculating mastermind?

A somewhat more obvious question to ask is whether the murderer was justified in taking justice into his own hands. Legally, the answer is no. Morally, the answer depends on your judgment of each of the crimes, including that of the murderer. Fictionally, it doesn’t actually matter. Vigilantes (Batman, Dexter, V) make for interesting, gratifying stories.

After the guests realize they’ve been trapped, the situation becomes increasingly horrific. Guilty or not, what would you do, isolated in a small group of people containing one person intending to put an end to your life? How would you feel? Would you know who to trust and who not to? Would you be capable of killing in your own defense? Rather than think on these questions, it’s more comfortable to just stand by and watch the intricate story play out like a song on a roll in a mechanical piano. Come to think of it, it’s probably a good thing the book doesn’t have a soundtrack.

When and Why I Read It

Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book Club Meetup in Singapore chose it.

I’ve seen some miscellaneous Agatha Christie TV and film adaptations, but despite the fact that my husband owns what seems like every novel, play, short story collection and non-fiction work by Agatha Christie, according to my records and as far as I can remember, I’d never actually read anything of hers before.

Genre: mystery
Date started / date finished:  18-June-16 to 19-June-16
Length: 173 pages
ISBN: 0671552228 (1986 paperback)
Originally published in: 1939
Amazon link: Ten Little Indians

In the copy I read, the island is called Indian Island and the poem is about ten little Indians. The internationally accepted title of the novel is now And Then There Were None, the island is called Soldier Island, and the poem in the book is about ten little soldier boys.

Wikipedia explains the book’s publication history and various titles.

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