Ten strangers from different walks of life meet as they embark for an island off the coast of the English shore, the invited guests and newly hired staff for the mysterious owners. These ten people soon realize none of them have actually ever met their hosts/employers, just as a storm strands them there, with no way to communicate with the mainland. Then, the bodies start piling up, as the unwitting residents realize a murderer walks among them.
This beloved Agatha Christie story, originally published in 1939, has also been published under the title, Ten Little Indians, and has been produced, and imitated, multiple times as movies, plays, television shows, and has served as inspiration for other author’s works. In some versions the guests are stranded on a snowy mountain that can only be reached by cable car, but much of the plot remains the same.
Dame Christie’s plot draws on an old children’s poem, which the murderer, unknown to the end, utilizes as both inspiration and methodology. The poem, alternately called “Ten Little Indians” or “Ten Little Soldiers,” depending on the version, details grisly ways these unfortunates decrease in number until all have met their fate.
It takes several deaths for the remaining party to realize that their numbers are dwindling, in accordance with the rhyme. However, they still have difficulty reconciling how the killer can perform these outrageous deeds, unseen and unknown, especially on an isolated island. Wittier guests realize that the murderer must have set things up ahead of time, but repeated searches of the island prove futile as the body count rises, and the survivors grow more and more suspicious of each other.
What the “tribunal,” presided over by Justice Wargrave, a retired judge, determines is, in accordance with a recorded message left for the party on the first night, each of the guests has participated in a wrongful death or murder, but has escaped justice in some manner. Each victim first denies and then admits the truth, if only in their own mind, before their demise.
Still, the reader is left wondering clear to the end of the story as to the actual identity of the murderer, as several good suspects fall prey to the unseen killer. In fact, Christie only reveals the actual murderer after the end of the story, in a document attached to the end, like an afterward, which reveals the murderer’s thoughts and actions in his/her own words.
It is not surprising that this story is one of the best-selling books of all times, and is a tribute to the author is work is so absorbing and timeless.
I give this book five stars, and recommend it to all fans of mystery, crime, and to any who have ever watched a movie or television production based on Agatha Christie’s work.