I’m supposed to be reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead at the moment. I started in October and got about halfway before I decided it was time to read some more appropriate reading for the scariest month of the year. It might not be the first choice for a Halloween read but I decided it was about time to reread And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I always find it a bit weird to reread a crime novel because it has a completely different feel when you know whodunit. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to know because you start to pick up on things that you didn’t the first time. I guess a more pedantic person might try and pick apart the plot knowing what you know but, for me, I think it’s just worth reading a classic Agatha Christie novel whenever you can. She is still the Queen of Crime for good reason. Something that I find worth celebrating as we reach the 100th anniversary of the publication of her first novel. I’ve tried to read contemporary crime fiction but, to be honest, I’m fucking bored of psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators and super dark themes. Every other week we’re being introduced to ‘the new Gone Girl‘ which would be fine if I’d actually felt that Gone Girl was actually worth finishing. I found it tired and predictable. It was obvious we were being played with but it wasn’t a good enough book for me to let myself be taken along for the ride. These days, it always seems like crime writers are just trying to one-up the last big sensation and it’s getting too out of control. Girl on the Train was not worth my time and every book I’ve read that tried to build off that was abandoned early on. I know classic novels like Agatha Christie’s seem tame in comparison but they are based on well-crafted narratives and not cliched plots. If you call yourself a fan of thrillers and you haven’t read anything by her then you’re really doing this reading thing wrong.
What is the greatest crime thriller of all time? It’s a difficult question and one that will, undoubtedly, have different answers depending on who you ask. If you look at numbers alone then I’d say that And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie has to be in with a shot. It is, using estimates of all time sales, one of the greatest selling books of all time and most probably the number 1 selling mystery novel. It’s certainly one of my top Christie novels trumped only by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd simply because I adore that novel’s unprecedented twist ending. Although, I have to agree that And Then There Were None is one of the best crafted mystery novels ever written with an ending that will keep first time readers guessing until the end. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
And Then There Were None brings together a group of 10 strangers on an isolated island and kills them off one by one. Each character is drawn to the island by a mysterious letter but, when they become stranded due to stormy weather, they are left fearing for their life when it becomes clear that one of their number has set them up for their murderous games based around a well-known nursery rhyme. Each guest is accused of committing their own murder on a dark stormy night and, moments later, the first of their party is found dead. With no sign of anyone else on the island, they have no option but to suspect each other. As their numbers dwindle the tension increases and it becomes harder to work out who can be trusted.
And Then There Were None is a deceptively simple novel from the outside. It is very self-contained with the list of characters sticking to the main 10 and the narrative taking place on the island over the space of a few days. There isn’t a great deal of action beyond a few searches of the house and there is a lot of sitting around waiting for stuff to happen. However, there is so much more to this novel. Christie’s narrative is so well-crafted that it will, genuinely, leave readers guessing who the killer is up until the last minute. You’ll forever be trying to second-guess everything and read too much into the little details. It’s a fantastically fun novel to try and unravel. It’s also incredibly tense and, in it’s own way, scary novel. Yes, it’s lost something over the years as we get used to authors taking horror further and further but this novel has enough atmosphere to keep you unnerved.
This mostly comes down to the sense of claustrophobia you get. Just as the guests on the island are stuck with nowhere to go as the weather rages outside, the reader is kept very insular. This is a novel that doesn’t venture further than it needs to. We barely get a glimpse of anything beyond the walls of the house and very little happens between the murders. Everyone is just sitting and waiting for the next strike and trying to figure out which of the party could be capable of such awful crimes. It has a pretty big body count in the end but And Then There Were None could hardly be described as bloody. Each death is described in a suitable manner for the period in which is was published. It all feels very British as the murder is swept under the carpet to keep the true horrors up to the imagination of the reader.
And Then There Were None is a very clever novel and is classic Agatha Christie. I don’t read her novels as much as I should anymore. Every time I do I get that familiar sense of joy and admiration. She remains one of the most loved mystery writers for a good reason and this novel is probably the perfect example of why. It can be a bit of mind fuck working out where to start with Christie. You’re tempted to start with a Miss Marple or Poirot story but that begs the question of where to start. Do you try and get them in the right order or do you just go with the most popular ones? I’m sure there are people out there on the internet who have found the perfect order but I can’t say that I’m clever enough to have worked it out. If anyone asked me where to start then I, at least for the time being, would probably recommend this one. It exists as it’s own novel but is such a Christie trademark. It’s pretty perfect… no matter how many times you read it.