“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 and hanged himself and then there were none.”
Fun fact: this was originally published as Ten Little Niggers, then Ten Little Indians, before finally settling on the offensive-to-no-one (we hope) And Then There Were None. Proving, of course, that a) Christie’s publishers probably know what they’re doing and b) a story can be great enough to completely eclipse its unsavory past.
This is a good mystery. This is a really good mystery, particularly to people who are already familiar with Agatha Christie’s work, because it’s like no other Christie mystery I’ve read so far. There’s no official detective investigating the case from an impersonal distance (so those sick of Poirot’s smarmy lectures about his stupid little gray cells, or frustrated by Miss Marple’s lack of direct involvement in her own cases, will have much to be thankful for here), and although the Agatha Christie Players are still here (the young governess, the old military man, the cocky playboy, the old spinster), they all have a dark edge to them that hasn’t been seen in other Christie books. Because, of course, the ten main characters in this mystery have all committed murder at some point in their lives. Some of the deaths were accidental, others were deliberate, but they all have something in common: each murder occurred in such a way that it can’t be proven in a legal setting, and each death is the reason these ten people are brought to Soldier Island by a mysterious guest. And then they start getting killed off one by one, and it’s suspenseful and creepy and everything that the Saw movies aren’t even smart enough to try imitating. Admittedly, I guessed a couple of the plot twists, but only in a very general sense (like, “oh, I bet one of the people who’s died isn’t actually dead, but I have no idea who it might be”) so I was kept guessing until the end.
That being said, I do have to let people know that the ending is the kind of mystery ending that I hate the most: where nobody can figure out who the killer is, so he/she waits until the last page and then starts shouting, “You fools! I totally did it, and in case you don’t believe me, I will now outline precisely how I managed to pull off every single aspect of my murderous scheme!” Blech. But everything before that was a damn good time, so I wasn’t even that mad.
Verdict: four out of five stars