Finished And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I received a copy from the publisher.
Summary (from Goodreads):
“Ten people, each with something to hide and something to fear, are invited to a lonely mansion on Indian Island by a host who fails to appear but leaves a recording accusing all of undetected murder. Cut off by his orders, one by one each die according to a nursery rhyme Ten Little Indians. A confession in a bottle solves how nobody remains alive.”
This was my first Agatha Christie novel, which—as a mystery fan—was a bit embarrassing for me. I’m very happy that Harper Collins is doing this readathon (a re-readathon for most of the participants) so that I can catch up a bit.
I feel like this is definitely one of her more famous novels (this and Murder on the Orient Express were the two I had always heard mentioned) and I definitely think this is the best one to start with.
From this point on, expect spoilers.
I had read Gretchen McNeil’s Ten, which is a reimagining of this book and I had seen the Facts of Life episode that’s a takeoff on it, but all that really meant is that I knew that one of the characters was the killer and would fake their own death, but I didn’t know which character it was.
I love how everything tied in to the poem (nursery rhyme?) mentioned in the beginning and how the little toy soldiers disappeared as people died. I thought everything in this book was incredibly clever, although I do understand the annoyance at how it is literally impossible to figure out what’s going on until you get to the epilogue and everything is spelled out. (But this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.)
Now to the book club questions!
1- When we first meet the “ten soldiers,” while they may not have been the best group of people, you don’t necessarily wish them ill will. As their pasts are revealed and their true personalities unmasked, did you feel any sympathy for them as a victim of the situation? Do you think that we, the reader, were predisposed to dislike certain characters more and feel sympathy for others?
The only one I really didn’t like was Emily Brent. I liked Vera, even though her crime was arguably the worst. (Incidentally, her character and situation reminded me of Marion Crane in Psycho—in love with someone she can’t have, due to circumstances beyond her control. That scenario led both to do something horrible, and both ended up paying for their actions. So I guess the moral here is don’t fall in love, right?)
But yeah, I hated Emily Brent. She was so holier-than-thou and definitely enjoyed her perceived status as being better than everyone else. I have to say of all the deaths in the book, I felt the best about hers.
2- Each soldier was initially defined by their stature or position in life, did that change for any of them as the story progressed, or did they rely more on their roles off the island for survival?
I think everyone stayed incredibly true to who they were off-island.
3- One of the themes present throughout And Then There Were None is guilt and the effect it can have on a person. How did each character deal with the guilt of their past crimes? Who handled it the best? And who was the most torn up from it?
I think Vera was the most affected by what she had done (and understandably so). I think the others were all more or less okay with what they had done (especially Emily Brent, who never seemed to feel at all guilty for what she had done).
4- What did you think of the use of “Ten Little Soldiers” throughout the book, both the poem posted in the bedrooms and the little disappearing figurines on the dining room table? How do they both figure into the story? Do you think the reminder of the “Ten Little Soldiers” poem was necessary throughout the story?
I don’t think they were necessary, per se, but they were definitely very, very creepy. It was fun to guess how the next death would occur, and the mental picture of the figurines disappearing one by one was very unsettling.
5- If you were trapped on Soldier Island, which character’s behavior would you most identify with and why? If not, what would you have done differently?
Ideally I would have been able to figure out a way to escape. (But I probably would’ve freaked out like Vera.) I do think I would’ve followed through with her idea to just lock herself in a room and not leave until help came. The pantry was apparently very well-stocked and I would’ve just grabbed some tin cans, an opener and just holed up until everyone else was dead. (The hermit’s guide to surviving a murder mystery!)
6- From the very beginning certain characters are drawn to each other to form alliances in their strange situation—at first Vera and Emily, later Blore, Armstrong, and Lombard, Armstrong and Wargrave, and then Vera and Lombard. What do you think brought them together? How do these alliances affect events?
I think desperation was behind all of the alliances. Initially, I think they were formed out of a need to feel safe and the whole safety in numbers idea. Obviously, though, the alliances didn’t change any of the outcome because “Unknown” has clearly planned for everything. (Obviously he’s not a great person but I do admire anyone who plans like this.)
7- Did you have your own theories about who Unknown was before getting to the “Manuscript Document” and if so, at what point?
I didn’t think it was one of the women or Rogers. I knew that the person was going to fake their death, so the fact that someone died didn’t get them off the hook for me.
8- It’s widely commented that Christie “violated the standard rules of mystery writing” by making it nearly impossible for us to solve the mystery before she explains it to us. How did that make you feel as a reader?
I understand the annoyance as I said earlier, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book. I don’t read a book to see if I can figure things out before I’m told.
9- As Agatha wrote in her author’s note, the plot was so simple, yet so baffling, that she herself was most pleased with the outcome for having done it. Are there any mysteries from recent years that you think come close to what she accomplished here?
I agree with Jenny’s assessment that it’s similar to Gone Girl. I feel like they’re both two of those books where you go along with it and the writer reveals thing in their own time.