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10 April 2011
Review: TEN LITTLE NIGGERS, Agatha Christie
aka AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1940)
also TEN LITTLE INDIANS
My edition: Fontana books 1975
Source: my father's library
10 people are invited to a fabulous mansion on Nigger Island off the coast of Devon. Though they all have something to hide, they arrive hopefully on a glorious summer evening... But soon a series of extraordinary events take place: the island is suddenly bathed in a most sinister light .. panic grips the visitors one, by one ... by one... by one...
You will have noticed that I have unapologetically used the original title of this novel, because that is the title of the copy that I have in hand.
This really is a novel with an extraordinary history.
Complaints about the perjorative nature of the original title resulted in it being renamed with the last line of the original rhyme And Then There Were None for the American publication. The island became Soldier Island. In the version published as TEN LITTLE INDIANS, we have Indian Island.
That people still feel very strongly about the use of THAT word was an issue I raised in a post earlier this year: Creating P.C. Reading by whitewashing the classics.
Wikipedia tells us that "it is Christie's best-selling novel with 100 million sales to date, making it the world's best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time". There is more about the history of the publication here.
Each of the ten guests has been responsible for at least one death, and in each of their rooms is a framed copy of the original "Ten Little.. " rhyme which details how each of the ensuing deaths will occur. The reader will find himself/herself consulting that page in the book to see how the next death will be accomplished. The guests do that too as they realise that the person committing the murders has to be one of them. On the dining room table are ten china figurines and as a guest dies, so the number of figurines is reduced.
The guests are stranded on the island by the weather and the novel is consequently an example of a very clever "locked room" mystery.
Even though this was far from my first reading of the novel (I used to teach it as a text back in the 1970s), it was still enjoyable to try to pick up finer details. Even when the police finally investigate the sequence of events that led to the ten deaths on the island, they don't get the chronology right. The reader knows that because of course we were there as the deaths happened. But even the reader doesn't know, unless they are clever, who the murderer is. Christie does give us just one tiny clue. In general, readers will need the final ten pages when a message in a bottle, picked up at sea, reveals all.
I have read TEN LITTLE NIGGERS as my next novel for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge and I will also be listing it in the British Books Challenge
My rating: 4.5