And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Audiobook narrated by Dan Stevens.
Opening sentence: “Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine.”
I am yet to read an Agatha Christie book that I didn’t like. Dame Agatha Christie was a true bloody genius. And Then There Were None is widely touted as one of her best and is a truly clever, captivating story. It’s a stand alone murder mystery, not featuring her signature detectives and as with many of her books, it centres around a simple premise; the skill of her storytelling is how expertly she executes the simple idea.
The book opens with this rhyme and it plays a key role in the killer’s plans:
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 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.
Interestingly, this version of the rhyme was not the one used when the book was published in 1939, the original rhyme and book had a racially sensitive title that was amended upon the book’s American release in 1940.
Set in a hot August in the 1930s, 10 people receive a request for their company on Soldier Island, a private island just off the coast of Devon owned by Mr. U.N. Owen. They don’t know it, but he gives them each a different reason for their invitation and has very specific reasons for wanting them there. When they get to Soldier Island, Mr. Owen is nowhere to be found and now the boat that dropped them off has left, they find themselves marooned on a remote island with a group of strangers. Over dinner, a gramophone recording informs them that they have all been called to the island to pay for crimes that they otherwise would have gotten away with. All 10 are accused of some kind of murder, and so the mysterious Mr Owen makes it his mission to give them a taste of their own medicine. But who is he? The group search the island and find no-one but the 10 in their party, so they come to the conclusion that the murderer must be among them… Then, in accordance with the rhyme, the murders begin…
I listened to this on audiobook, narrated by actor Dan Stevens, who was a delight to listen to. He did a wonderful job of altering his voice for each character and when there are so many in play and you don’t have a visual reference (or can’t skip back through pages to check who is who) the subtleties he used for each were essential. Otherwise it would have been tricky to keep track of everyone.
As you would expect from a Christie novel, the plot is perfectly paced, and you are left guessing right the way through. I won’t give any spoilers away, but I completely see how And Then There Were None got its reputation as one of the best murder mysteries you’ll read.