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An All-Time Crime Classic
on 1 March 2003
This classic Christie whodunit has borne three different titles, which has been the source of some confusion. Originally published in England under the title "Ten Little Niggers" in 1939, it was retitled "And Then There Were None" for its 1940 American edition for obvious reasons. However, the English stage version of 1943 retained the "Niggers" title while the American stage version ran as "Ten Little Indians." Even more confusingly, the first film version, released in 1945, bore the American "And Then There Were None" title, while the three subsequent adaptations (1965, 1975, and 1989) took the "Ten Little Indians" title! The original offensive title comes from a Victorian-era music-hall song, which itself was a rip-off of an American song by Septimus Winner, circa 1868. All of which is neither here nor there, but only to help clear up any confusion. I would note that the most recent French edition bears the title "Dix petit negres", which somehow does not surprise me...
As for the actual novel, it's perhaps the ultimate whodunit of the "locked house" variety. Ten people are summoned to an island off the Devon coast, none of them know each other or their ostensible host. The story starts by showing the ten en route to the island and provides a brief character sketch of each as background. I have to confess that at first, some of the men kind of blend together, and it takes little time to keep straight who is who. Once on the island, the eight guests and two servants wait for their host, who never shows up. Completely cut off from the mainland, they grow restless until one of them dies. When another dies, it can be no mere coincidence, and they realize that one amongst them must be a killer. The rest of the book plays this cat and mouse game all the way out, leaving the reader guessing until the very end. Because of the number of characters, there's not a whole lot of depth to any of them, but the story is obviously plot-driven as opposed to character-driven, so that should come as no surprise. It's an incredibly elaborate (and thus slightly contrived) web that is woven, but great fun, especially in bleak, stormy weather!