You ever read an Agatha Christie book? They’re pretty good, actually. Only the Bible and William Shakespeare have outsold Ms. Christie. If you like those old-school drawing room mysteries where, at the end, the sleuth gathers all the suspects together and explains who done it and how – you know, like that game, ‘Clue’ – then you’ve certainly heard of her. And it didn’t take long for her stories to be dramatized, first in the stage, then in movies and TV.
But there is ONE Agatha Christie story that seems to get all the attention. It’s her biggest seller, to this day. In fact, it’s one of the bestselling novels of all time, in the whole world. It’s been filmed a LOT, it’s been ripped off, parodied and pastiched.
I’m talking about ‘And Then There Were None’ (1939).
Well, it’s also known as ‘Ten Little Indians’, but that’s considered less PC nowadays.
WELL, it was ORIGINALLY known as ‘Ten Little’ . . . umm, something even less okay to modern audiences. So popular is this one particular story that the name is changed so that it can find new readers in each generation. Not many books are treated this way!
So, what’s all the fuss?
Oh, it’s a pretty engaging little story, yes: Strangers are summoned to an island, strangers who all have secrets – a group of people who are all likely suspects – then a murder and another murder and ANOTHER, with no way for the rapidly shrinking group to escape, all knowing they’re trapped on the island and that one of them is the murderer! But who? And who will be the next to die? And how?
But in fact, as a detective story, it’s really not. Agatha Christie created some literary detectives who are STILL getting the ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ treatment: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, for example. But this story features no sleuth, amateur or otherwise, who solves the case.
And if you, the reader, try to solve the mystery yourself by carefully keeping track of the clues and piecing it all together, guess what? You can’t! Not gonna give away the plot, but you CANNOT solve the mystery. Fortunately, the answer IS provided, eventually. So as a “mystery”, it’s a tad odd, as well.
So this atypical story, with the strangers lured together, the revelation of hidden secrets, the cryptic threat by a mysterious stranger, the bizarre and varied deaths, has become the very model of this type of fiction. Even if you’ve never seen or read the story, you know of one LIKE it.
It’s been done on the radio, on television and movies in many languages. Because of the vital plot element that the victims/suspects must be trapped together and cut off from the rest of the world, adaptations have been set in the desert, the mountains, just about anywhere!
In fact, oddly, infamous producer Harry Alan Towers made three movies from this book: in 1965, 1974 and 1989. Each was set in a different locale, although the first two shared the sane script (also written by Towers).
Just a few movies that have ripped off the premise are “The Beast Must Die” – a werewolf movie – the 1986 “April Fool’s Day” and two parodies, “Murder By Death” and the movie version of the “Clue” game!
There was a graphic novel version, even a computer game. All this and, sadly, a lot if people have never read this story. Many have never even seen one of the many direct film adaptations! But almost everyone has seen one of the ripoffs, at least as an episode of some TV show.
My favorite was the 1974 version. Granted, it’s the first one I ever saw. By the time I got around to reading it, I’d forgotten the movie – so the ending (which, again, I won’t give away) really floored me. At first, I was actually PO’d but, when I thought about it, I really appreciated the idea of a mystery story that isn’t made to be solved by the reader.
Agatha Christie simply sat down and wrote a great story. By playing with people’s expectations of mystery fiction in general and her work in particular, Ms. Christie created a story so compelling that you’re reading my article about it, almost 75 years later! And it’s really THAT good. It’s just a well-written, genuinely compelling tale, regardless of the title. Check it out, when you get a chance.