I swear, one of these days I’m going to not post this blog the day of our next Read It & Steep meeting. One of these days …
In June, we met to discuss one of my favorite books of all time: And Then There Were None by the great Agatha Christie. I have read this book on multiple occasions and it was so fun to get to discuss what I love about it with book group. Oddly enough, there were 10 participants in June’s conversation, just as there are 10 people on the island in the book. We found this wildly amusing, but then again we’re easily amused.
If you haven’t read And Then There Were None, it’s a classic, the quintessential murder mystery, in fact it is often touted as the best-selling murder mystery of all time. This article on How-Stuff-Works says it’s the 6th best-selling novel of all time! I think (and I’m happy to say, most of the steepers agreed) that it’s not very hard to see why. Christie’s classic is a real page turner and even though I know “who done it” I never tire of trying to find the hints and clues throughout. They are there, but sparse!
Our conversation revolved around much of the … shall we say … checkered past of the novel. When it was first released in 1939 (in the UK) the title was based on what had been a popular nursery rhyme in England. Thank goodness, the US edition was never published with that title, as it was very politically incorrect, even in the pre-civil rights movement days. Ten Little N-words became Ten Little Indians … still not very PC, and then finally And Then There Were None. However, the novel featured “little Indian boys” for 50+ years. A few years back, a very fun video game adaptation was made of this gem of a novel. They became little sailor boys … which I personally thought made sense, as it’s an island, but what do I know? The most recent releases of the book, including the ebook editions have re-branded the little boys as “soldier boys.” Hopefully, soldiers are not insulted.
The basic plot is that 10 people are invited to an island for a house party; all lured by work or play (having been invited by acquaintances) or the mysterious owners of the island the Owens’. They quickly realize that the group assembled is an odd mix and are befuddled when their hosts don’t show up. They are all accused of committing a murder (or more) in their pasts. When one of the guests dies after dinner and drinks, the group is shocked, but when a second person dies only a few hours later, they must come to terms that it may not have been an accident and that:
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 travelling 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 in 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 playing with a gun (sitting in the sun)
One shot the other and then there was one (One got frizzled up and then there were one)
One Little Soldier Boy left all alone
He went and hanged himself and then there were none
This book is an excellent display of psychological terror and how each of the guests reacts to the increasing expectation of their demises. The steepers had great fun discussing it and for the most part we all really enjoyed the novel. Steeper Rachel found herself bored enough to fall asleep during it, but she was interested enough to find out how it ended. The book does end with the killer announcing his/herself and many of us found ourselves paging back to see if Christie drops any major hints. During our discussion of villains, I mentioned that “the great ones, we … err, did I say we? I meant they, of course … you know what, I forget what I was going to say … enjoying the death by chocolate?”
I don’t know if they’ll eat anything I make ever again.
We also had a great conversation about the 1945 film version of And Then There Were None, which is one of the most bootlegged films ever since the copyright expired, so depending on the copy you watch, the sound may or may not be appropriately synched to the picture. So, for some people it’s like a badly translated kung-fu movie … with awesome, some times over the top acting. I definitely recommend it AFTER you’ve read the book, as it does end quite differently and features several different characters and past crimes. Check out the imdb page for And Then There Were None.
We also talked about the wonderful murder mystery parody Murder by Death which pokes fun at two of Agatha Christie’s great detectives … neither of which are featured in And Then There Were None, which stands alone (and in my opinion above). Christie is accused of withholding information that makes it impossible for readers to guess who did it and also tricking and fooling the reader … she may do so, but it’s all in good fun and if you’re okay not having the whole thing laid out for you to guess, And Then There Were None is the quintessential murder mystery and well worth the lightning fast read!