A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


AGATHA CHRISTIE – And Then There Were None. Dodd Mead, hardcover, January 1940. Pocket Books #261, US, paperback, 1944. Prior serialization in the Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from 20 May to 01 July 1939 Published first in the UK (Collins, hardcover, November 1939). Reprinted in both countries many times in both hardcover and paperback. Numerous film adaptations, beginning with And Then There Were None in 1945.

   Perhaps the most famous of all of Dame Agatha’s novels, this is both a masterful cat-and-mouse thriller and a baffling exercise for armchair sleuths – a genuine tour-de-force. And like all of her best work, it has inspired countless imitations and variations – the ultimate compliment for any crime novel and crime-novel writer.

   Ten men and women, none of whom know one another, are either invited or hired to spend a weekend on isolated Indian Island off the Devon coast. Their host is someone calling himself “U. N. Owen” (Unknown), and it soon becomes apparent that he is either a separate individual who is hiding somewhere on the island or that he is one of the ten. Each guest harbors some sort of dark secret or past indiscretion that makes him or her a target for homicide. And one by one, they begin to die in bizarre and frightening ways that loosely coincide with the ten verses of the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians,” wherein lies the novel’s primary clue.

   But there is no detective, professional or amateur, here; no one left at all, in fact – except the reader – to explain the murders when the weekend (and the book) draws to a close. Thus And Then There Were None is a perfectly apt title.

   The effects of the novel are multiple: a gradually mounting sense of terror and suspense that binds reader to chair; a skillful shifting of suspicion from one individual to another, principally through the introduction and manipulation of red herrings; in-depth characterization (not always Christie’s long suit); and a surprising denouement that perhaps justifies one critic’s judgment of the novel as “the ultimate in whodunits.”

   And Then There Were None was filmed three times: in 1945, 1965, and 1975. The first of the three versions, directed by René Clair and starring Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, and Louis Hayward, is by far the best and most faithful to the novel – a small classic in its own right.

   Slightly revised with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.