And Then There Were None
Cover of first UK 1939 edition by Stephen Bellman with original title
|Original title||Ten Little Niggers|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|6 November 1939|
|Preceded by||Murder is Easy|
|Followed by||Sad Cypress|
|Website||And Then There Were None|
And Then There Were None is a mystery novel by Agatha Christie, widely considered her masterpiece and described by her as the most difficult of her books to write. It was first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club on 6 November 1939, as Ten Little Niggers, after the British blackface song, which serves as a major plot point. The US edition was not released until December 1939; its American reprints and adaptations were all retitled And Then There Were None, the last five words in the original American version of the nursery rhyme ("Ten Little Indians").
In the novel, a group of people are lured into coming to an island under different pretexts, e.g., offers of employment, to enjoy a late summer holiday, or to meet old friends. All have been complicit in the deaths of other human beings, but either escaped justice or committed an act that was not subject to legal sanction. The guests and two servants who are present are "charged" with their respective "crimes" by a gramophone recording after dinner the first night, and informed that they have been brought to the island to pay for their actions. They are the only people on the island, and cannot escape due to the distance from the mainland and the inclement weather, and gradually all ten are killed in turn, each in a manner that seems to parallel the deaths in the nursery rhyme. Nobody else seems to be left alive on the island by the time of the apparent last death. A confession, in the form of a postscript to the novel, unveils how the killings took place and who was responsible.
It is Christie's best-selling novel; with more than 100 million copies sold, it is also the world's best-selling mystery and one of the best-selling books of all time. Publications International lists the novel as the seventh best-selling title.
- 1 Plot summary
- 2 Characters
- 3 Publication and book title history
- 4 Literary significance and reception
- 5 Adaptations
- 6 Parodies, references and related works
- 7 References
- 8 External links
On a hot, late August day sometime in the late 1930s, eight people arrive on Soldier Island (Indian Island in some versions, Nigger Island in the original 1939 version), a small, isolated island off the Devon coast of England. Each appears to have an invitation tailored to his or her personal circumstances, such as an offer of employment or an unexpected late summer holiday. They are met by Thomas and Ethel Rogers, the butler and cook/housekeeper, who state that their hosts, Mr and Mrs Owen, have not yet arrived.
A framed copy of a nursery rhyme, "Ten Little Niggers" ("Ten Little Indians" or "Ten Little Soldiers" in later editions), hangs in every guest's room, and ten figurines sit on the dining room table. After supper, a gramophone (or "phonograph") record is played; it contains a recording that describes each visitor in turn, accuses each of having committed murder but escaping justice, and then asks if any of "the accused" wishes to offer a defence. All but Anthony Marston and Philip Lombard deny the charges, and Miss Brent refuses to discuss the matter with men present.
They discover that none of them actually knows the Owens and conclude that the name "U.N. Owen" is shorthand for "Unknown". In the aftermath of the recording, Marston finishes his drink and immediately dies from cyanide poisoning. The remaining guests notice that one of the ten figurines is now broken, and the nursery rhyme appears to reflect the manner of death ("One choked his little self and then there were nine").
The next morning, Mrs Rogers' corpse is found in her bed; she had died in her sleep from an overdose of chloral hydrate. By lunchtime, General MacArthur is found dead, from a heavy blow to his head. Two more figurines are found to be broken, and again the deaths parallel the rhyme. Miss Brent relates the account of her presumed charge to Vera Claythorne, the only other remaining woman.
A search for "Mr Owen" shows that nobody else is on the island except the remaining seven. The island is a "bare rock" with no hiding places, and no one could have arrived or left; thus, they uncomfortably conclude that any one of the seven remaining persons is the killer. Justice Wargrave leads the group in determining that as of yet, none of them can definitively be ruled out as the murderer. The next morning, Rogers is found dead while chopping wood, and after breakfast, Miss Brent is found dead in the kitchen, where she had been left alone after complaining of feeling unwell; she had been injected with potassium cyanide via a hypodermic needle.
Wargrave then suggests searching all the rooms, and any potentially dangerous items they can think of are locked up. However, Philip Lombard's gun is missing from his room. When Vera goes upstairs to take a bath, she is shocked by the touch of seaweed left hanging from the ceiling of her room and screams; the remaining guests rush upstairs to her room. Wargrave, however, is still downstairs. The others find him seated, immobile and crudely dressed up in the attire of a judge. Wargrave is examined briefly by Dr Armstrong and pronounced dead from a gunshot to the forehead.
That night, Lombard appears surprised when he finds his gun returned to his room. Ex-inspector William Blore catches a glimpse of someone leaving the house but loses the trail. He then discovers Armstrong is absent from his room, and the remaining three guests conclude he must be the killer. Vera, Blore, and Lombard decide to stay together at all times. In the morning, they unsuccessfully attempt to signal SOS to the mainland from outside by using a mirror and sunlight. Blore then decides to return to the house for food and is killed by a heavy bear-shaped clock statue that falls from Vera's window sill.
Vera and Lombard are now confident that Armstrong is the killer. However, shortly afterwards, Vera and Lombard come upon Armstrong's body washed up on the beach, which they do not immediately recognize due to decomposition. They both realise he could not have killed Blore. Panicked, each concludes the other must be the killer.
Quickly regaining her composure, Vera suggests moving the doctor's body past the shore, but this is a pretext. She manages to lift Lombard's gun. When Lombard lunges at her to get it back, she shoots and kills him. She returns to the house in a shaken dreamlike state, relieved to be alive. She finds a noose and chair arranged in her room, and a strong smell of the sea. With visions of her former lover, Hugo, urging her on, in a post-traumatic state, she adjusts the noose and kicks the chair out from under her.
Two Scotland Yard officials are puzzled by the identity of U.N. Owen. Although they can reconstruct the deaths from Marstan to Wargrave with the help of the victims' diaries and a coroner's careful report, they are forced to conclude that "U.N. Owen" was one of the victims, but are unable to determine which one.
- Postscript by the killer
In a postscript, a fishing ship picks up a bottle inside its trawling nets; the bottle contains a written confession of the killings, which is then sent to Scotland Yard. It is not mentioned how long after the killings the bottle was discovered.
In the confession, Justice Wargrave states that he has long wished to set an unsolvable puzzle of murder, but is morally limited to victims who are themselves guilty and deserving of such an end. He explains how he tricked the gullible Armstrong into helping him fake his own death under the pretext that it would supposedly to give him freedom to help the group identify the killer, and also explains that after Vera died, he placed the chair in her room neatly, and used the gun and some elastic to ensure his own death matched the account in the guests' diaries.
He also describes how his first chronological victim was actually Isaac Morris, the sleazy lawyer and drugs trafficker who anonymously purchased the island and arranged the invitations on his behalf. Morris was poisoned before Wargrave departed for the island. Wargrave's intention is that when the police arrive they will find ten bodies, with evidence that someone had been alive after each death, but nobody else on the island, and no way to trace the killer through his invitations or preparations. He states that, although there are hints that could guide them to the correct killer, he believes the police will be left perplexed.
Current published version of the rhyme
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.
The following details of the characters are based on the original novel. Backstories, backgrounds, and names vary with differing international adaptations, based on censorship, cultural norms, etc.
- Anthony James Marston killed two young children (John and Lucy Combes) while driving recklessly, for which he felt no real remorse and accepted no personal responsibility, complaining only that his driving licence had been suspended as a result. He was the first island victim, poisoned with potassium cyanide slipped into his drink while the guests were listening to the gramophone recording. ("One choked his little self ...")
- Mrs Ethel Rogers, the cook/housekeeper and Thomas Rogers' wife, described as a pale and ghost-like woman who walks in mortal fear. She was dominated by her bullying husband, who coerced her into agreeing to withhold the medicine of a former employer (Miss Jennifer Brady, an elderly spinster) in order that they might collect an inheritance they knew she had left them in her will. Mrs Rogers was haunted by the crime for the rest of her life, and was the second victim, dying in her sleep from an overdose of chloral hydrate in her brandy. ("One overslept himself ...")
- General John Gordon Macarthur, a retired World War I war hero, who sent his late wife's lover (a younger officer, Arthur Richmond) to his death by assigning him to a mission where it was practically guaranteed he would not survive. Leslie Macarthur had mistakenly put the wrong letters in the envelopes on one occasion when she wrote to both men at the same time. The general accepts that no one will leave the island alive, which he tells Vera Claythorne. Shortly thereafter, he is bludgeoned while left alone sitting along the shore. ("One said he'd stay there...")
- Thomas Rogers, the butler and Ethel Rogers' husband. He dominated his weak-willed wife, and they killed their former elderly employer by withholding her medicine, causing the woman to die from heart failure, thus inheriting the money she bequeathed them in her will. Despite his wife's death, Rogers was still serving the others. In that capacity, he was killed when bludgeoned with an axe as he cut firewood in the woodshed. ("One chopped himself in halves ...")
- Emily Caroline Brent, an elderly, religiously rigid spinster who accepted the vacation on Soldier Island largely due to financial constraints. Years earlier, she had dismissed her young maid, Beatrice Taylor, for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Beatrice, who had already been rejected by her parents for the same reason, drowned herself, which Miss Brent considered an even worse sin. She refuses to discuss the matter with the gentlemen, telling them, "I have always acted in accordance with the dictates of my conscience. I have nothing with which to reproach myself." Later, she confides what happened to Vera Claythorne, who tells the others shortly before Miss Brent is found dead herself. She was sedated with chloral hydrate in her coffee, leaving her disorientated, before being injected in the neck with potassium cyanide while alone in the kitchen, with one of Dr Armstrong's hypodermic syringes ("A bumblebee stung one...").
- Dr Edward George Armstrong, a Harley Street doctor, responsible for the death of a patient, Louisa Mary Clees, after he operated on her while drunk many years earlier. Armstrong is asked by Justice Wargrave to help fake his death, on the pretext that this will leave the judge free to find the killer, but is fooled in doing so – while rendezvousing with the judge at night on a rocky cliff, he is pushed by the other man into the sea, and is killed ("A red herring swallowed one..."). His body goes missing for a while, leading the others to believe that he is the killer, but his corpse washes ashore at the end of the novel, sparking the final confrontation between Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard in which the latter is killed.
- William Henry Blore, a former police inspector and now a private investigator, was accused of falsifying his testimony in court for a bribe from a dangerous criminal gang, which resulted in an innocent man, James Landor, being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Landor, who had a wife and young child, died shortly afterwards in prison. Using the alias "Davis" and claiming to have arrived from South Africa, as he was instructed to do, he is on the island for "security work". His true name is revealed on the gramophone recording. He denies the accusation against him from the gramophone recording, but later privately admits the truth to Lombard. He was crushed by a bear-shaped clock dropped from Vera's bedroom window onto the terrace below. ("A big bear hugged one...")
- Philip Lombard, a soldier of fortune. Literally down to his last square meal, he comes to the island with a loaded revolver, as suggested by his invitation letter. Lombard is accused of causing the deaths of a number of East African tribesmen, after stealing their food and abandoning them to their deaths. He, along with Marston, are the only guests to openly and immediately confirm that the accusations against them are true; neither feels any remorse. ("Story's quite true! I left 'em! Matter of self-preservation. We were lost in the bush. I and a couple of other fellows took what food there was and cleared out ... Not quite the act of a pukka sahib, I’m afraid. But self-preservation's a man's first duty. And natives don't mind dying, you know. They don't feel about it as Europeans do.") Lombard fulfilled the ninth referenced verse of the rhyme, shot to death on the beach by Vera, ("One got frizzled up ...") who believed him to be the murderer. Of all the "guests" he is the only one to theorize that "U.N. Owen" might be Wargrave, but the others reject this and it does him no good.
- Vera Elizabeth Claythorne, a cool, efficient, resourceful young woman who is on leave from her position as a sports mistress at a third-rate girls' school. She has largely worked at secretarial jobs ever since her job as a governess was ended by the death of her charge, Cyril Hamilton, whom she intentionally allowed to swim out to sea – as the child had wanted to do, but had theretofore been denied as too dangerous – and drowned. She did this so her lover, Cyril's uncle, Hugo Hamilton, could become the family heir, inherit the estate and marry her, which had been their original plan before Cyril's birth changed things. She swam out to sea to "save" Cyril to make it seem he had disobeyed her – as she had consistently told him it was too dangerous – but knowing she would not arrive in time. Her plan backfired when Hugo, who loved his nephew, abandoned her after he somehow sensed what she had done. As the drunken Hugo told Wargrave in their fateful meeting on a transatlantic liner: "I've known a murderess – known her, I tell you [confides Hugo]. ... Women are fiends – absolute fiends – you wouldn't think a girl like that – a nice straight jolly girl – you wouldn't think she'd do that, would you? That she'd take a kid out to sea and let it drown – you wouldn't think a woman could do a thing like that?"
Wargrave was able to trace Vera with this information, and lure her to the island. In the penultimate scene of the novel, she manages to take Lombard's gun, and shoot him dead in what she believed was self-defence. She returns to the house, relieved she has survived. When she goes to her room, she finds a readied noose, complete with chair beneath it, suspended from a hook hanging from the ceiling. In what Wargrave describes as a post-traumatic state, she sees and hears Hugo, her former lover, encouraging her, adjusts the noose round her neck and kicks the chair away, fulfilling the rhyme's final verse ("One little Indian Boy left all alone; He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.")
- Justice Lawrence John Wargrave, a retired judge, known as a "hanging judge" for liberally awarding the death penalty in murder cases. He admits in his postscript that he has a lifelong hidden sadistic urge to cause death, but felt bound only to indulge it with guilty persons, and a lifelong wish to create a masterpiece of a mystery. Finding himself terminally ill, he creates a game in which, as island owner "U.N. Owen" (i.e. "Unknown"), he entices to an island various people who have been responsible for the deaths of other people, but escaped justice, through a third party agent, Isaac Morris, in order to be a murderer himself, and kill his "guests" in a way that would leave an almost-unsolvable mystery. After the deaths, he arranges the island so that each death appears to have a survivor. However out of an admitted need for posthumous recognition, he also writes a confession, which he throws in the sea, and leaves to chance whether it will be found. His final act is to shoot himself in a way that matches the description of his death in some of the other guests' diaries, by using a rubber cord and handkerchief wrapped around the gun when he shoots himself in the head; the elastic will separate and attract no attention, and the gun and cloth will recoil a sufficient distance from him to avoid any suspicion of the true circumstances by the police.
- Isaac Morris (who never actually appears in the story) is the real "tenth death". He is an unethical lawyer who was hired by Wargrave (under the name "Owen") to purchase the island, record the gramophone record, and make various arrangements on his behalf. Morris's is the first death chronologically, as he dies before the story begins. Morris was responsible for the addiction and suicide of a young woman through his narcotics activities. The victim by chance was the daughter of a friend of Wargrave. A hypochondriac, he trusted "Mr Owen" sufficiently to accept the latter's lethal cocktail of pills, assured they would improve his health.
- Fred Narracott, the boatman who delivered the guests to the island. After doing so, he does not appear again in the story, although Inspector Maine notes it was Narracott who, sensing something seriously amiss, returned to the island as soon as the weather allowed, before he was scheduled to do, and found the bodies.
- Sir Thomas Legge and Inspector Maine, two Scotland Yard detectives who discuss the case in an epilogue. It is clearly implied that the police have not solved the case by the time Wargrave's message is found.
Publication and book title history
The novel was originally published in 1939 and early 1940 almost simultaneously, in Great Britain and the United States. In Great Britain it was originally published under the title Ten Little Niggers, in book and newspaper serialised formats. The serialisation was in 23 parts in the Daily Express from Tuesday 6 June to Saturday 1 July 1939. All of the instalments carried an illustration by "Prescott" with the first having an illustration of Burgh Island in Devon which inspired the setting of the story. The serialised version did not contain any chapter divisions. The book retailed for seven shillings and sixpence.
In the United States it was published under the title And Then There Were None, again in both book and serial formats. Both of the original US publications changed the title from that originally used in the UK, due to the offensiveness of the word in American culture, where it was more widely perceived as a racially loaded ethnic slur or insult compared to contemporary UK culture, and because of the pejorative connotations of the original blackface rhyme. The serialised version appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from 20 May (Volume 211, Number 47) to 1 July 1939 (Volume 212, Number 1) with illustrations by Henry Raleigh, and the book was published in January 1940 by Dodd, Mead and Company for $2.
Publication and title: English language
In the original UK novel all references to "Indians" or "Soldiers" were originally "Nigger", including the island's name, the pivotal rhyme found by the visitors, and the ten figurines. (In Chapter 7, Vera Claythorne becomes semi-hysterical at the mention by Miss Brent of "our black brothers", which is understandable only in the context of the original name.) The word "Nigger" was already racially offensive in the United States by the start of the 20th century, and therefore the book's first US edition and first serialization changed the title to And Then There Were None and removed all references to the word from the book, as did the 1945 motion picture.
The book and its adaptations have since been released under various new names since the original publication, including Ten Little Indians (1946 play, Broadway performance and 1964 paperback book), Ten Little Soldiers and – the most widely used today – And Then There Were None.
UK editions continued to use the work's original title until the 1980s; the first UK edition to use the alternative title And Then There Were None appeared in 1985 with a reprint of the 1963 Fontana Paperback.
- English language editions and titles
- Christie, Agatha (November 1939). Ten Little Niggers. London: Collins Crime Club. OCLC 152375426. Hardback, 256 pp. (First edition)
- Christie, Agatha (January 1940). And Then There Were None. New York: Dodd, Mead. OCLC 1824276. Hardback, 264 pp. (First US edition)
- 1944, Pocket Books, 1944, Paperback, 173 pp (Pocket number 261)
- 1947, Pan Books, 1947, Paperback, 190 pp (Pan number 4)
- 1958, Penguin Books, 1958, Paperback, 201 pp (Penguin number 1256)
- Christie, Agatha (1963). And Then There Were None. London: Fontana. OCLC 12503435. Paperback, 190 pp. (The 1985 reprint was the first UK publication of the novel under the title And Then There Were None).
- Christie, Agatha (1964). Ten Little Indians. New York: Pocket Books. OCLC 29462459. (first publication of novel as Ten Little Indians)
- 1964, Washington Square Press (paperback – teacher's edition)
- Christie, Agatha (1977). Ten Little Niggers (Greenway ed.). London: Collins Crime Club. ISBN 0-00-231835-0. Collected works, Hardback, 252 pp (Except for reprints of the 1963 Fontana paperback, this was one of the last English-language publications of the novel under the title "Ten Little Niggers".)
- Christie, Agatha (1980). The Mysterious Affair at Styles; Ten Little Niggers; Dumb Witness. Sydney: Lansdowne Press. ISBN 0-7018-1453-5. Late use of the original title in an Australian edition.
- Christie, Agatha (1986). Ten Little Indians. New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-55222-8. (Last publication of novel under the title "Ten Little Indians")
Publication and title: non-English languages
The original title (Ten Little Niggers) still survives in a few foreign-language versions of the novel, such as the Bulgarian title Десет малки негърчета, and was used in other languages for a time, for example in the Dutch publication until the 18th edition of 1994. The title Ten Little Negroes continues to be commonly used in foreign-language versions, for example in Spanish, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, French and Hungarian, as well as a 1987 Russian film adaptation Десять негритят (Desyat Negrityat). In 1999, the Slovak National Theatre staged the play under its original title but changed to A napokon nezostal už nik (And Then There Were None) mid-run.
- Non-English translations and titles
|Arabic||عشرة عبيد صغار, ثم لم يبق منهم أحد , جزيرة الموت,عشرة زنوج صغار
(eshrt eubayd sghar, thumm lm yabq minhum ahd, jazirat almwt, eshrt zunuj saghar)
|Ten Little Negroes
Ten servants, young, and then left them one, Isle of death, ten young Negroes (literal translations)
|Bengali||রইলো না আর কেউ (Ra'ilō nā āra kē'u)||And Then There Were None|
|Bosnian||Deset malih crnaca||Ten Little Negroes|
|Bulgarian||Десет малки негърчета (Deset malki negŭrcheta)||Ten Little Negroes|
|Basque||Eta ez zen alerik ere geratu||And Then There Were None|
|Catalan||Deu negrets||Ten Little Black Men|
|Chinese||無人生還 (Wú rén shēng huán)
一個都不留 (Yī gè dōu bù liú)
|No One Survived
None is left
|Croatian||Deset malih crnaca||Ten Little Negroes|
|Czech||Deset malých černoušků||Ten Little Black Boys|
|Danish||En af os er morderen||One of Us is the Killer|
|Dutch||Tien kleine negertjes
En toen waren er nog maar...
|Ten Little Negroes
And then there were only...
|Estonian||Kümme väikest neegrit (1994 edition)
Ja ei jäänud teda ka (2008 edition)
|Ten Little Negroes
And Then There Were None
|Finnish||Eikä yksikään pelastunut (1940, 2004)
Kymmenen pientä neekeripoikaa (1968)
|And none survived
Ten little negro boys
|French||Dix Petits Nègres||Ten Little Negroes|
|Galician||Dez negriños||Ten Little Black Boys|
|German||Letztes Weekend (1944)
Zehn kleine Negerlein (1982)
Und dann gabs keines mehr (2003)
Ten Little Negroes
And Then There Were None
|Greek||Δέκα Μικροί Νέγροι (Déka Mikroí Négroi)||Ten Little Negroes|
|Hebrew||עשרה כושים קטנים||Ten Little Negroes|
|Hungarian||Tíz kicsi néger||Ten Little Negroes|
|Icelandic||Tíu litlir negrastrákar||Ten Little Negro boys|
|Indonesian||Sepuluh Anak Negro||Ten Little Negroes|
|Italian||Dieci piccoli indiani||Ten Little Indians|
|Japanese||そして誰もいなくなった (Soshite dare mo i naku natta)||And Then There Were None|
|Korean||그리고 아무도 없었다 (Geurigo amudo eobs-eossda)||And Then There Were None|
|Latvian||Desmit mazi nēģerēni||Ten Little Negroes|
|Malayalam||ഒടുവില് ആരും അവശേഷിച്ചില്ല (Oduvil Aarum Avasheshichilla)||No One Survived in the End|
|Malaysian||Sepuluh Budak Hitam||Ten Black Children|
|Norwegian||Ti små negerbarn||Ten Little Negro Children|
|Persian||ده بچه زنگی||Ten Negro Children|
I nie było już nikogo
|Ten Little Negroes
And Then There Were None
|Portuguese (European)||Convite para a Morte
As Dez Figuras Negras
|Invitation to Death
Ten Black Figures
|Portuguese (Brazilian)||E Não Sobrou Nenhum
O Caso dos Dez Negrinhos
O Vingador Invisível
|And Then There Were None
The Case of the Ten Little Black Boys
The Invisible Avenger
|Romanian||Zece negri mititei||Ten Little Negroes|
|Russian||Десять негритят (Desyat' negrityat)||Ten Little Negroes|
|Serbian||Десет малих црнаца (Deset malih crnaca)||Ten Little Negroes|
|Slovak||A neostal ani jeden||And Then There Were None|
|Spanish||Y no quedó ninguno
|And No One Remained
Ten Black Boys
|Swedish||Tio små negerpojkar (1940)
Och så var de bara en (2008)
|Ten little Negro Boys
And Then There Was Only One
|Tamil||பிறகு அங்கு ஒருவர் கூட இல்லை
(Eng: Piragu angu oruvar kooda illai)
|And then there were none|
(Eng: Gaajina Mane)
|The Glass House|
(rtgs: khattakam yok ko)
|Murders On The Island|
|Turkish||On Küçük Zenci||Ten Little Negroes|
|Ukrainian||Десятеро негренят||Ten Little Negroes|
|Urdu||اور پھر کوئی بی نہیں رہا!||And Then There Were None|
|Vietnamese||Mười người da đen nhỏ||Ten Little Black People|
Literary significance and reception
And Then There Were None is one of Agatha Christie's best-known mysteries, widely considered her masterpiece and described by her as the most difficult of her books to have written. Writing for The Times Literary Supplement of 11 November 1939, Maurice Percy Ashley stated, "If her latest story has scarcely any detection in it there is no scarcity of murders... There is a certain feeling of monotony inescapable in the regularity of the deaths which is better suited to a serialized newspaper story than a full-length novel. Yet there is an ingenious problem to solve in naming the murderer", he continued. "It will be an extremely astute reader who guesses correctly."
Many other reviews were also complimentary; in The New York Times Book Review (25 February 1940), Isaac Anderson detailed the set-up of the plot up to the point where "the voice" accuses the ten "guests" of their past crimes or sins, which have all resulted in the deaths of other human beings, and then said, "When you read what happens after that you will not believe it, but you will keep on reading, and as one incredible event is followed by another even more incredible you will still keep on reading. The whole thing is utterly impossible and utterly fascinating. It is the most baffling mystery that Agatha Christie has ever written, and if any other writer has ever surpassed it for sheer puzzlement the name escapes our memory. We are referring, of course, to mysteries that have logical explanations, as this one has. It is a tall story, to be sure, but it could have happened."
Such was the quality of Christie's work on this book that many compared it to her novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926). For instance, an unnamed reviewer in the Toronto Daily Star of 16 March 1940 said, "Others have written better mysteries than Agatha Christie, but no one can touch her for ingenious plot and surprise ending. With And Then There Were None... she is at her most ingenious and most surprising... is, indeed, considerably above the standard of her last few works and close to the Roger Ackroyd level."
Other critics laud the use of plot twists and surprise endings. Maurice Richardson wrote a rhapsodic review in The Observer's issue of 5 November 1939 which began, "No wonder Agatha Christie's latest has sent her publishers into a vatic trance. We will refrain, however, from any invidious comparisons with Roger Ackroyd and be content with saying that Ten Little Niggers is one of the very best, most genuinely bewildering Christies yet written. We will also have to refrain from reviewing it thoroughly, as it is so full of shocks that even the mildest revelation would spoil some surprise from somebody, and I am sure that you would rather have your entertainment kept fresh than criticism pure." After stating the set-up of the plot, Richardson concluded, "Story telling and characterisation are right at the top of Mrs Christie's baleful form. Her plot may be highly artificial, but it is neat, brilliantly cunning, soundly constructed, and free from any of those red-herring false trails which sometimes disfigure her work."
Robert Barnard, a recent critic, concurred with the reviews, describing the book as "Suspenseful and menacing detective-story-cum-thriller. The closed setting with the succession of deaths is here taken to its logical conclusion, and the dangers of ludicrousness and sheer reader-disbelief are skillfully avoided. Probably the best-known Christie, and justifiably among the most popular."
The original title of the mystery (Ten Little Niggers) has long been abandoned as offensive in English-speaking countries and a number of others. Some critics have opined that Christie's original title and the setting on "Nigger Island" (later changed to "Indian Island" and "Soldier Island", variously) may be integral to the work. These aspects of the novel, argues Alison Light, "could be relied upon automatically to conjure up a thrilling 'otherness', a place where revelations about the 'dark side' of the English would be appropriate." Unlike novels such as Heart of Darkness, "Christie's location is both more domesticated and privatised, taking for granted the construction of racial fears woven into psychic life as early as the nursery. If her story suggests how easy it is to play upon such fears, it is also a reminder of how intimately tied they are to sources of pleasure and enjoyment."
In the "Binge!" article of Entertainment Weekly Issue #1343-44 (26 December 2014–3 January 2015), the writers picked And Then There Were None as an "EW favorite" on the list of the "Nine Great Christie Novels".
And Then There Were None has had more adaptations than any other single work by Agatha Christie. They often used Christie's alternative ending from her 1943 stage play, and frequently changed the setting to locations other than an island.
There have been numerous film adaptations of the novel, some comedic. Examples include:
- And Then There Were None (1945 film), René Clair's cinema adaptation, was a successful US production
- Ten Little Indians (1965 film), is George Pollock's cinema adaptation
- Gumnaam (1965, translation: Unknown or Anonymous) is an Indian suspense thriller film adaptation
- And Then There Were None (1974 film), the first English-language colour version, was directed by (Peter Collinson
- Desyat' Negrityat (1987, Десять негритят, Eng: "Ten Little Negroes") Stanislav Govorukhin's Russian adaptation keeps intact Christie's grim storyline and ending.
- Aduthathu (2012) is a Tamil movie adaptation
- Aatagara (2015) is a Kannada film adaptation
- The BBC broadcast "Ten Little Niggers" (1947), adapted by Ayton Whitaker, first aired as a Monday Matinee on the BBC Home Service on 27 December 1947 and as Saturday Night Theatre on the BBC Light Programme on 29 December.
- On 13 November 2010, as part of its Saturday Play series, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 90-minute adaptation written by Joy Wilkinson. The production was directed by Mary Peate and featured, among others, Geoffrey Whitehead as Justice Wargrave, Lyndsey Marshal as Vera Claythorne, Alex Wyndham as Philip Lombard, John Rowe as Dr. Armstrong, and Joanna Monro as Emily Brent. In this production, which is extremely faithful to the novel, the rhyme is "Ten Little Soldier Boys".
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- And Then There Were None (1943 play) is Christie's adaptation of the story for the stage. She and the producers agreed that audiences might not flock to such a grim tale as was told in the novel, and it would not work well dramatically as there would be no one left to tell the story. Thus, she reworked the ending for Lombard and Vera to be innocent of the crimes of which they were accused, survive, and fall in love with each other. Some of the names were also changed, e.g., General Macarthur became General McKenzie (possibly due to the real-life General Douglas MacArthur's then playing a prominent role in the ongoing World War II).
- And Then There Were None (1944 play), Dundee Repertory Theatre Company was given special permission to restore the original ending of the novel. The company first performed a stage adaptation of the novel in 1944 under its original title.
- And Then There Were None (2005 play), On 14 October 2005, a new version of the play, written by Kevin Elyot and directed by Steven Pimlott, opened at the Gielgud Theatre in London. For this version, Elyot returned to the original story, restoring the downbeat ending in which Lombard and Vera both die.
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Several variations of the original novel were adapted for television. There have been three different British adaptations: two by the BBC (in 1949 and 2015), and an ITV adaptation in 1959. There was also an American version, Ten Little Indians, directed by Paul Bogart, Philip F. Falcone, Leo Farrenkopf and Dan Zampino, with the screenplay by Philip H. Reisman Jr., that was a truncated TV adaptation of the play.
And Then There Were None (miniseries) (airdates December 26–28, 2015), is a BBC One adaptation based on the original novel. This was the first English language film adaptation to feature an ending similar to that of the original novel.
The Adventure Company released the video game Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None in 2005, the first in a series of PC games based on Christie novels. In February 2008, it was ported to the Wii console. The identity of the murderer is not that of the killer in the original book. The game player assumes the role of Patrick Naracott (brother of Fred Naracott, who is involved in a newly created subplot), who is stranded with the others when his boat is scuttled. This allows for alternate, more successful endings in which Naracott survives and is able to prevent the murders of the innocent Lombard and Claythorne. All endings depart markedly from the novel and previous adaptations in that the killer and motives are different.
In Anthony Horowitz's detective series, The Diamond Brothers, the case I Know What You Did Last Wednesday pays homage to And Then There Were None; protagonist Nick Diamond accompanies his brother Tim to a school reunion on a lonely island where the various guests start dying in a manner that reflects back to a subject that they came first in at school (the person who came first in chemistry is poisoned, the one who came first in geography is crushed by a globe, etc.), with the killer revealed at the conclusion to be a former schoolfriend who came second in everything.
Timeline of adaptations
|Film||And Then There Were None||1945||American film and first cinema adaptation. Produced & directed by René Clair.|
|TV||Ten Little Niggers||1949||BBC television production (IMDb)|
|TV||Ten Little Niggers||1959||ITV television production (IMDb)|
|TV||Ten Little Indians||1959||NBC television production (IMDb)|
|Film||Ten Little Indians||1965||British film and second cinema adaptation. Directed by George Pollock and produced by Harry Alan Towers; Pollock had previously handled four Miss Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford. Set in a mountain retreat in Austria.|
|Film (loosely based)||Gumnaam||1965||Uncredited Hindi film adaptation, which adds the characteristic "Bollywood" elements of comedy, music and dance to Christie's plot.|
|TV||Zehn kleine Negerlein||1969||West German television production (IMDb)|
|Film (loosely based)||5 bambole per la luna d'agosto||1970||Italian film (directed by Mario Bava)|
|Film||And Then There Were None||1974||English language film by Peter Collinson and produced by Harry Alan Towers. First English-language color film version of the novel, based on a screenplay by Towers (writing as "Peter Welbeck"), who co-wrote the screenplay for the 1965 film. Set at a grand hotel in the Iranian desert.|
|TV||Ten Little Slaves (Achra Abid Zghar)||1974||Télé Liban TV series directed by Jean Fayyad, TV Adaptation by Latifeh Moultaka. (Facebook Page)|
("Ten Little Negroes")
|1987||Russian film version produced/directed by Stanislav Govorukhin, notable for being the first cinema adaptation to keep the novel's original plot and grim ending.|
|Film||Ten Little Indians||1989||British film, produced by Harry Towers and directed by Alan Birkinshaw, set on safari in the African savannah.|
|Film (loosely based)||Identity||2003||Horror film with same starting settings|
|Film (loosely based)||Mindhunters||2004||Suspense-thriller film with a similar premise|
|Sound novel||Umineko no Naku Koro Ni
Umineko no Naku Koro Ni Chiru
|2007–2010||A series of Japanese sound novels which borrows the book's premise and sets the reader on a quest to discover the identity behind the crimes, and whether it is human or not.|
|TV (loosely based)||Harper's Island||2009||13 episode mini-series with the same premise|
|Film (loosely based)||Devil||2010||film by M. Night Shyamalan adapts this story's basic structure and final plot twist to the confines of an elevator|
|Film (loosely based)||Game||2011||Bollywood thriller inspired by the story|
|Film (loosely based)||Aduthathu||2012||Tamil movie |
|TV (loosely based)||Whodunnit?||2013||A Reality TV Gameshow Created by Anthony E. Zuiker.|
|Film (loosely based)||Sabotage||2014||an American action thriller/crime drama film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger loosely based on the book.|
|TV||Ten Little Slaves (Achra Abid Zghar)||2014||MTV Lebanon television production (MTV)|
|Film||Aatagaara||2015||Kannada movie directed by K. M. Chaitanya produced by Dwarkish|
|TV||And Then There Were None||2015||BBC One miniseries broadcast on three consecutive nights, directed by Craig Viveiros and adapted by Sarah Phelps. Ending similar to book, although not absolutely identical.|
The 1933 K.B.S. Productions Sherlock Holmes film, A Study in Scarlet, predates the publication of Ten Little Indians and follows a strikingly similar plot; it includes a scene where Holmes is shown a card with the hint: "Six little Indians ....bee stung one and then there were five"; the film predates the novel by six years. Though it is a Sherlock Holmes movie, the movie bears no resemblance to Arthur Conan Doyle's original story of the same name. In this case, the rhyme refers to "Ten Little Fat Boys". The author of the movie's screenplay, Robert Florey, "doubted that [Christie] had seen A Study in Scarlet, but he regarded it as a compliment if it had helped inspire her".
Several parodies have been made. As early as autumn 1942, "World's Finest Comics" (#7, Fall Issue) had a Superman story by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster called "The Eight Doomed Men" which used Christie's basic structure and even borrowed a number of her victim's backgrounds, although Superman intervened to rescue half of the intended victims and the killer's motivation was changed to specific revenge. Siegel and Shuster anticipated the 1966 film by moving the locale to a mountain cabin and tossed in a Zeppelin-like dirigible – one location not yet used in adaptations of the story.
Another parody, the 1976 Broadway musical Something's Afoot, stars Tessie O'Shea as a female sleuth resembling Miss Marple. Something's Afoot takes place in a remote English estate, where six guests have been invited for the weekend. The guests, as well as three servants and a young man who claims to have wandered innocently onto the estate, are then murdered one by one, several in full view of the audience, with the murderer's surprise identity revealed at the end. For an encore, the murdered cast members perform a song, "I Owe It All to Agatha Christie".
In the 1967 The Avengers episode "The Superlative Seven" John Steed is invited to a costume party aboard a chartered aeroplane. The aeroplane is being flown by remote control. Steed and the six other fancy-dressed guests, who are specialists in various combat styles, eventually land on a deserted island where they are informed that one of them is a trained assassin trying to kill them all. When the first murder is committed, Steed observes "Looks as though his back was broken". To which an off-screen protagonist responds, over a speaker, "Quite right, Mr Steed. And then there were six". CSI:Crime Scene Investigation based an episode of the show's second season under the same name focusing on a gang of armed robbers stealing from casinos outside the Las Vegas metropolitan area with each criminal killing a member of the gang to keep more of the proceeds.
The 1998 anime film Case Closed: The Fourteenth Target is a combination of this story, with intended victims invited to a secluded island and the murderer hiding amongst them, and Christie's Hercule Poirot novel The A.B.C. Murders.
In the 2006 The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion video game, there is a quest called "Whodunit" where the player assumes the role of an assassin tasked with killing six party guests in a locked mansion. The party guests, some of whose descriptions were borrowed from Christie's book, are the following: "One old maid" (Matilde Petit), "Old military gentleman, real Army by the look of him" (Neville), "Nice looking young lady" (Dovesi Dran), "A bluff, cheery gent" (Nels), and "He was the right kind, born to money" (Primo Antonius). Another reference is that on the dinner table upstairs, there are six sweetrolls on a plate. The sweetrolls function as the little figurines from the book, one representing each of the invited guests, one of which would mysteriously be removed after each murder.
The season 2 finale of the Australian TV show Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries ("Murder under the Mistletoe", 2013) mirrors the plot of Christie's novel. Guests stranded in a secluded mansion are murdered one by one according to the circumstances described in the "12 Days of Christmas." Like in the Christie novel, the guests soon realize that the murderer must be among them, but the murderer is able to escape detection by means of a bluff involving one of the corpses. The episode follows the 1965 film Ten Little Indians in reimagining the island as a snowed-in chalet.
In the 2016 novel The Baker Street Jurors, a judge takes his barristers and jurors on a site visit to an English resort island, soon to become isolated by bad weather, and the hotel owner mentions the Agatha Christie story to the judge--who responds that he has read the story too, but has no intention of murdering anyone. Murders happen, even so.
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- "HarderCollins article on their adaptation ISBN 978-0-00-727532-8". HarperCollins UK. 2009. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
- "Review of Ten Little Niggers". The Observer. 5 November 1939. p. 6.
- Peers, C.; Spurrier, A.; Sturgeon, J. (1999). Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions (2nd ed.). Dragonby Press. p. 15. ISBN 1-871122-13-9.
- Pendergast, Bruce (2004). Everyman's Guide to the Mysteries of Agatha Christie. Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing. p. 393. ISBN 1-4120-2304-1.
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- Christie, Agatha (1944). And Then There Were None: A Mystery Play in Three Acts. Samuel French.
This line is sometimes replaced by One got left behind and then there were seven.
- Note: In some versions the ninth verse reads Two little Soldier boys playing with a gun/One shot the other and then there was One.
- Christie, Agatha (March 2008). And Then There Were None. Harper-Collins. p. 276. ISBN 978-0-06-074683-4.
- Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale); Shelfmark NPL LON LD3/NPL LON MLD3.
- British National Bibliography for 1985. British Library (1986); ISBN 0-7123-1035-5
- Whitaker's Cumulative Book List for 1977. J. Whitaker and Sons Ltd. 1978; ISBN 0-85021-105-0
- ""Zece negri mititei" si "Crima din Orient Express", azi cu "Adevarul"" (in Romanian). Adevarul.ro. 6 January 2010. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
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- Anderson, Isaac (February 25, 1940). "Review: Ten Little Indians". The New York Times Book Review. p. 15.
- "Review: Ten Little Indians". Toronto Daily Star. March 16, 1940. p. 28.
- Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 206. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- Light, Alison (1991). Forever England: Femininity, Literature, and Conservatism Between the Wars. Routledge. p. 99. ISBN 0-415-01661-4.
- "Binge! Agatha Christie: Nine Great Christie Novels". Entertainment Weekly (1343-44): 32–33. 26 December 2014.
- "Aatagara – Movie Review".
- "Ten Little Niggers". Radio Times (1263). 26 December 1947.
- "Stage production of And Then There Were None at Dundee Rep". nls.uk. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
- BBC TV (20 August 1949). "Ten Little Niggers". Radio Times (1348). p. 39.
- "Season 4, Episode 20 'Ten Little Niggers'". Play of the Week (ITV). January 13, 1959.
- "And Then There Were None to air on BBC1 on Boxing Day 2015". Radio Times. December 2, 2015.
- Peká Editorial website; accessed 10 July 2015.
- "Aduthathu Movie Review". behindwoods.com.
- Taves, Brian. Robert Florey, the French Expressionist. New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1987, p. 152; ISBN 0-8108-1929-5
- Taves (1987), p. 153
- The Avengers – The Superlative Seven at the Internet Movie Database
- At 28'38" into the episode (Kult TV DVD KLT21002B).
- Macmillan. "The Baker Street Jurors | Michael Robertson | Macmillan". Macmillan. Retrieved 2016-07-28.