And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939) 164 p.
I’m not normally a fan of the mystery genre, but I’ll try anything once, and Agatha Christie is one of those authors who is so famous and so much a part of our cultural fabric that I felt like I had to read at least one of her books. And Then There Were None – which is the newer, modern title, the book having gone through two more offensive iterations – is widely regarded as her finest mystery, and in fact was recently voted as such.
Eight strangers are invited to a country manor on a remote island off the coast of Devon. Upon arrival they find their host – not someone personally known to any of them – is nowhere to be found, and the house contains just two servants. At dinner, the ten of them are suddenly subjected to a gramophone recording which accuses each of them of murder, or at least manslaughter – and then one by one, the murders begin, until it becomes clear to those gathered that the murderer is Somebody In This Room.
Christie’s writing style is quite basic, and in particular there’s an awful lot of single sentences which only serve the purpose of logistics: “Lombard re-entered the room,” that sort of thing. I assume this all serves the purpose of the eagle-eyed readers of the 1930s who were jotting down notes as they read, treating this (and all novels in the genre, I suppose) less as stories than as puzzles or games. The characters, in turn, are not so much people as they are pieces on a board, with their attributes and personalities just being further clues for the machinations of the mystery. That’s all fine, I suppose, but it’s not really for me.
As for the solution to the mystery – which has been hailed as “ingenious,” “cunning” and “soundly constructed” – I found it ludicrous.
Putting aside the fact that Wargrave getting the revolver away from his post-suicide body requires the use of an elaborate rubber band contraption to slingshot it back out the door and onto the landing (I mean, come on!) this master plotter somehow overlooks the fact that although he was “supposed” to have died in the sitting room, his bed will now be coated in a fresh layer of blood and brains, and the police will find an inexplicable bullet hole in the pillow and mattress beneath him. This is the most egregious hole in the mystery, but far from the only one. If this is the best novel by the best writer in the genre, count me out.