And Then There Were None
February 6, 2009
Ten little Soldier boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Soldier boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier boys going in for law;
One got into Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two Little Soldier boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
They thought that it was just a harmless nursery rhyme, a favorite of their hosts since it was hanged in frames in each one of their rooms.
Eight different people, from eight different social classes have been invited to go to a mansion on Soldier Island by a Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen. Upon arriving, they are told by the butler and his wife, Thomas and Ethel Rogers, that their hosts are currently away. Each guest finds in his or her room a slightly odd bit of bric-a-brac and a framed copy of the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soldiers” (“Ten Little Niggers” in the original 1939 UK publication and “Ten Little Indians” in the 1940 US publication) hanging on the wall.
During a large dinner, the guests notice ten little figurines of soldiers on the dining room table. Later, while they are having a dinner, a gramophone was played, informing the ten that all of them are guilty of murder, and in each case they were not sentenced to death or heavy prison terms since the nature of the killings meant that the law could not touch them:
- Dr. Edward Armstrong operated and accidentally killed his patient, Louisa Clees, while drunk.
- Emily Brent dismissed her maid Beatrice Taylor after she became pregnant and the maid committed suicide by drowning herself.
- William Blore committed perjury during the trial of an accused bank robber Stephen Landor, who died in the prison.
- Vera Claythorne allowed Cyril Hamilton, a small boy in her care, to swim out to sea and drown. Cyril was first in line to inherit a vast legacy; the second was Vera’s lover.
- Phillip Lombard abandoned a party of twenty-one native retainers to die in the African bush.
- General John Macarthur deliberately sent his wife’s lover and his subordinate, Arthur Richmond, on a suicidal mission during World War I.
- Anthony Marston accidentally ran over and killed two children, John and Lucy Combes, while driving recklessly.
- Thomas and Ethel Rogers let their invalid employer Jennifer Brady die by withholding her medication in order to claim a large inheritance.
- Justice Lawrence Wargrave gave the death penalty to accused murderer Edward Seton despite evidence supporting his innocence.
The guests realize they have all been tricked into coming to the island, but now have no way to get back to the mainland, as the boat which regularly delivers supplies stops arriving. They are then murdered, one by one, each murder paralleling a verse of the nursery rhyme, and one of the ten soldier figurines being removed after each murder. First to die is Anthony Marston, whose drink is poisoned with cyanide (one choked his little self). That night, Thomas Rogers notices that one soldier figurine is missing from the dining table. The next morning, Mrs. Rogers never wakes up, and is assumed to have received a fatal overdose of sleeping draught (one overslept himself). At lunchtime, General MacArthur, who had predicted that he would never leave the island alive, is found dead from a blow to the back of his head (one said he’d stay there) when Dr. Armstrong calls him to lunch. In growing panic, the survivors search the island for the murderer or possible hiding places, but find no one. Justice Wargrave establishes himself as a decisive leader of the group; he asserts that one of them must be the murderer and is playing a sadistic game with them; an example of the killer’s twisted humor is that—with the exception of Wargrave—each of the “guests” has been invited to come to the Island by Mr/Mrs “U.N.Owen” (i.e. “UNknOWN”). Every time someone dies, a soldier figurine disappears.
The next morning, Rogers is missing and they notice one of the little soldier figurines is missing as well. Rogers is soon found dead in the woodshed, having been struck in the head with a large axe (one chopped himself in halves). Later that day, while the others are in the drawing room, Emily Brent stays in the dining room and she dies from an injection of potassium cyanide—the injection mark on her neck is an allusion to a bee sting (a bumblebee stung one). The hypodermic needle is found outside, thrown from the window along with a smashed china soldier figurine. The five survivors—Dr. Armstrong, Justice Wargrave, Philip Lombard, Vera Claythorne, and Inspector Blore—become increasingly frightened. Wargrave announces that anything on the island that could be used as a weapon should be locked up, including Wargrave’s sleeping pills and Armstrong’s medical equipment; Lombard admits to bringing a revolver to the island, but it has gone missing. They decide to sit in the drawing room, with only one leaving at any one time—theoretically, they should all be safe that way. Vera, the one most wracked by guilt, goes up to her room and discovers a strand of seaweed planted there; her screams attract the attention of Blore, Lombard, and Armstrong, who rush to her aid. When they return to the drawing room, they find Wargrave, dressed up in a judge’s wig and gown, slumped against a chair with a gunshot wound in his forehead (one got into Chancery); Armstrong confirms his death.
That night, Blore hears someone sneaking out of the house. He searches the remaining rooms and discovers Armstrong missing from his room—so they think he must be the killer. Vera, Blore, and Lombard (whose revolver has since been returned to him) decide it best to go outside when morning arrives; when Blore’s hunger later makes him go back into the house, he does not return; as Vera and Phillip does, they discover a body on the front lawn, his head crushed by Vera’s marble, bear-shaped clock (a big bear hugged one). They assume that Armstrong has committed the murder and leave to walk along the shore. They find Armstrong’s drowned body along the cliffs (a red herring swallowed one) and realize that they are the only two left; though neither could possibly have killed the Inspector, their mutual suspicion has driven them to the breaking point and each of them assumes the other to be the murderer. As they lift Armstrong’s body out of reach of the water, Vera swipes Lombard’s revolver, kills him on the beach (out in the sun; or, one shot the other), and returns to her room, discovering a noose hanging from the ceiling and a chair underneath it. Having finally been driven mad (or “hypnotically suggestible”) by the experience and tormented by latent remorse for her crime, Vera hangs herself, kicking the chair out from under her, fulfilling the final verse of the rhyme (And then there were none).
In the epilogue, it was revealed that the murderer was actually one of the ten people on the island. The tricks, of course, was very Agatha Christie-an (is that even a word? =p): simple, yet most people wouldn’t have thought of it until she revealed it. She kept her readers guessing until the end.
This is my favorite book. I couldn’t put it down, it’s a little bit spine-chilling (at least for me) yet I kept on reading. Other Christie’s books are slow-paced. Some are on the verge of boring (but still good, though). Some I can’t even bring myself to finish. Christie wrote 66 detective novels, out of which I’ve finished 32 and read 2 or 3 but couldn’t bring myself to finish them.
The ones I like best are “And Then There Were None” and “Murder Is Easy”. Right now I’m trying to find “Endless Night”.