(Originally) Published: by Collins Crime Club in November 1939
The Synopsis[taken from Waterstones.com]
Ten strangers, apparently with little in common, are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon by the mysterious U.N.Owen. Over dinner, a record begins to play, and the voice of an unseen host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret. That evening, former reckless driver Tony Marston is found murdered by a deadly dose of cyanide. The tension escalates as the survivors realise the killer is not only among them but is preparing to strike again! and again!
I haven't ever read anything by Agatha Christie before because I had always associated her books with Miss Marple. I strongly disliked the TV adaptations of this interfering non-detective and, I'm sorry to say, tarred all of Christie's many books with the same brush. I came across this when I was looking on my local library's eBook site for something quick and light to read on a blustery day. What compelled me to actually download it was the haunting nursery rhyme from which the book used to take its name ("Ten Little N**gers/Indians", depending upon the decade):
"Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight..."
And so on. I'm one of those people that finds kids (particularly those that hum creepy tunes) in scary films extremely creepy so this was a hook that worked for me...
So here we have ten people travel to an island expecting a whole host of different things only to realise that they are part of a mysterious stranger's scheme to expose an indiscretion from their past. Soon, they realise that the stranger is looking for more than just an opportunity to watch them squirm and members of the group start dying in odd circumstances.
The first couple of chapters are full of snippets of information and background on each of the ten characters which I worried would detract from the development of the story but that settled down quickly and I didn't look back.
One reason I guess this story is so unique is because there isn't a detective pointing out clues for you and musing on alternative theories. All you have are snatches of random characters' thoughts and accounts of their occasional 'meetings' where they bandy about some ideas in an effort to stop themselves going bonkers. Contrary to what you might expect, getting a glimpse into characters' heads from time to time is actually more confusing; sometimes I didn't know who was thinking a particularly incriminating thought or something ambiguous would come from someone that I'd started to think might be wrongly caught up in things and I'd be right back to square one. It was brilliant.
Despite not spending much time on anything but the characters' backgrounds/thoughts and, obviously, the action, the story has a brilliant atmosphere in a classic trapped-in-a-huge-mansion-in-a-storm kind of way. On top of that, as the characters become more suspicious of their remaining companions and more nervous (sleep deprivation and a sense of impending death is no good for a happy group dynamic), the tension becomes almost palpable and is hard to escape from. I barely put the book down and pretty much read it in two sittings. That is extremely rare for me and a testament to how completely sucked in to the story I was.
There isn't much more I can say without giving too much away. At only 172 ePages/224 pages in paperback, this is an extremely quick read that is packed full on suspense, intrigue, murder and secrets. If it's gloomy and you have a couple of hours to kill, read this - it's perfect autumn fodder!
Overall: The beauty of this book lies in never knowing what is going to happen next or, more specifically, when something is going to happen. It's a brilliant thriller with a twist every couple of chapters and an ending that I genuinely never saw coming which, I suppose, is all you can really ask for from a mystery!
Having finished this, I decided I wanted to watch a film adaptation, just to see how it worked on screen but it turns out there are a lot of versions - has anybody seen one and/or have any particularly strong feelings on which I could be watching?