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There's a touch of "Lord of the Flies" with evidence that a madman (or woman) is out to kill each and every one of them.
on 19 May 2016
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.
"Ten people dead on an island and not a living soul on it. It doesn't make sense. We don't know who did it, or why, or how."
Regarded as Christie's masterpiece, the most difficult of her books to write and more than 100 million copies sold worldwide to cement the reputation of Christie as the Queen of Crime. Sarah Phelp's recent adaptation of the book was atmospheric and gripping with a stellar cast lead by Charles Dance, Aidan Turner and Sam Neill.
The book needed an epilogue to explain who the culprit was and why he had chosen his particular victims for this fantastical crime, "something stupendous-out of the common. Something theatrical, impossible." Sir Thomas Legge, the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard and Inspector Maine try to piece it together after the discovery of the bodies and can't quite get it right.
"Some fanatic with a bee in his bonnet about justice. He was out to get people who were beyond the reach of the law. He picked ten people-whether they were really guilty or not doesn't matter." The manner of their deaths resembled the children's nursery rhyme hung in each of the bedrooms. (Frank Green 1869)
Christie decided to include a simple device of a message in a bottle. More formally it was referred to as a manuscript document sent to Scotland Yard by the master of the Emma Jane fishing trawler. This amounted to a confession by the murderer before killing himself. It was enclosed in a bottle, sealed and cast into the sea. It neatly sums up what the police were unable to do and reveals the instability and dangerous nature of the murderer: "I have a definite sadistic delight in seeing or causing death." He wanted it to be on a grand scale and it was!
The story is set in August 1939 and centres around an island off the coast of Devon called Soldier Island. The island was engulfed in mystery and was isolated, prone to storms so it proved the perfect venue to carry out mass murder. When there is a south-easterly wind you can’t land on the island. Sometimes it can be cut off for a week or more. An American millionaire, Elmer Robson, had bought the island and he had built a luxurious and modern house where his guests stayed. There were more recent rumours that Gabrielle Turl, the Hollywood film star had bought it. This couldn't be verified. We do know that a Mr and Mrs U.N.Owen had bought the island recently and they had employed a Mr Isaac Morris to invite a number of people to the island. He was able to concoct a suitable bait for each of his victims to entice them to spend a week on the island before killing them, one at a time.
The characters are introduced as they are travelling from various destinations to Soldier Island. Justice Wargrave has just retired from the bench after a long and successful career. It seemed that he had been invited by an old friend, Constance Culmington to catch up on the old days and commune with nature. He hadn't seen her for seven or eight years. He thinks that even Constance could have bought the island. He was known as the hanging judge. He had a great power with the juries: “it was said he could make their minds up for them any day of the week.”
Vera Claythorne was looking forward to being offered a summer job on the island. She had been teaching games in a third-rate school and had had a strenuous term. Working as Mrs Owen’s secretary sounded enticing. Philip Lombard was a ruthless mercenary. He had been offered a hundred guineas to keep a look-out. He was broke so he accepted the assignment. We are told continually that he moved like a panther and likened to a beast of prey. He is the only guest to carry a revolver which makes him one of the chief suspects once the killing spree begins.
Emily Brent is a religious fanatic. She had received a letter from an old acquaintance from Bellhaven Guest House inviting her for a free holiday on the island. Her income had been reduced so a free holiday was always welcoming. She reads from her Bible about the day of judgment: “the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.” General Macarthur seemed to have received an invitation from his cronies. He had mixed feelings when he landed, delight as he climbed the stairs followed by unease. Dr Armstrong was sent a cheque asking him to keep an eye on Owen’s wife without alarming her. Owen’s wife didn’t appear!
Mr Blore was using a pseudonym, Davis and had invented a story that he was from South Africa. Lombard spots the deceit immediately. Blore was an ex-detective. Mr and Mrs Rodgers were the butler and his wife, the cook. Dr. Armstrong was in need of a long holiday. He found Soldier Island magical, a world of fantasy. “You lost touch with the world-an island was a world of its own. A world, perhaps, from which you might never return.” Christie throws in plenty of clues to keep us on our guard. Something is very odd. Even the characters feel it. They eyed each erring on the side of caution. Then there was Anthony Marston who came for the drink and the prospect of women. Rich and spoilt. The first to be poisoned.
After dinner together, the guests relaxed and started to open up a little with more freedom and intimacy. Marston noticed ten little china figures sitting on the table, looking quite harmless but odd. And then it happened… There was a voice without warning, inhuman, penetrating accusing the guests of crimes committed- causing the deaths of other fellow men, with dates included. They are addressed as prisoners at the bar. There was a petrified silence followed by anger and shock. Then there’s a touch of Lord of the Flies with evidence that a madman (or woman) is out to kill each and every one of them. Suspicion, paranoia, trapped on the island with a madman intent on killing.
By the time three survivors remained Lombard suggested heliographing with a mirror, sending out an SOS in the hope of a rescue from the mainland. Some of them kept diaries and notes so it was possible for the police to piece together vital clues.
The man, Isaac Morris who had provisioned the island and made all the necessary arrangements died. Was he also killed? “He explained to the people down there (Sticklehaven) that there was some experiment on-some bet about living on a “desert island” for a week-and that no notice was to be taken of any appeal for help from out there.”
It’s a clever book and you’ll probably have to read it through right to the end before you discover the murderer. You won’t be disappointed.
Publisher: Harper Collins Publisher. ISBN: 978-0-00-713683-4
REVIEW it by Carol Naylor.