A tightly constructed mystery is a pleasure. For all the imagination that builds sprawling, globe-trotting adventures, creating the same excitement with a small cast in a single location is a particular show of skill. Agatha Christie was a master of this technique and proved it at her best in And Then There Were None.
Ten characters stuck in a mansion on a remote island. One by one, they are killed off in accordance with the verses in a poem about “Ten Little Indians” (the book’s original American title), while trying to uncover the killer among them. Christie gives us a structure that sets a fairly predictable course for the action, yet uses this countdown like the ticking of a bomb to build suspense to a delirious heightened pitch. The clever methods of applying the poem’s gristly ends upon the victims – a tiny poisoned shot standing in for a bee sting, for instance – highlight her creativity. Though Christie’s reputation can tend seem a little stuffy and antique at times, the book is lively, dark fun.
The novel has found a niche as a blueprint for the trapped-in-a-mansion mystery. Its influence is visible in successors like Something’s Afoot, Clue, or – my favorite – this episode of Mathnet: