Well what can I say? I first read this book many, many years ago and it has always stayed in my mind as my favourite of all Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, and after this re-read, it still is.
Although there is no Poirot or Miss Marple detecting, in fact there is practically no detection at all, there have to be more murders in this book than in any other of her novels!
For those of you who haven’t read this book the basic plot is a simple one: Ten people are invited to Soldier Island off the coast of Devon, by someone they believe they know some for work and some for pleasure. Only the very slow will not realise that the most common name seems to be one Mr or Miss U.N. Owen (Unknown). We meet the various guests as they travel down and they range from the old General to the young(ish) schoolmistress. In each of the bedrooms hangs a copy of the verse:
Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier Boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one
One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
In total seven men and three women are in the dining room when a disembodied voice accuses the guests of wrongdoings in the past. Before the night is out there is one dead guest and one missing china soldier figure from the original set of ten… And so the mystery begins and what a terrific one it is. Not only does the reader have the pleasure of trying to identify who the killer might be from the clues given but this particular reader got great enjoyment of working out how the next death would fit with the rhyme.
In the beginning of my copy there is a quote from Agatha Christie’s biography which states that it took a tremendous amount of planning to avoid becoming ridiculous. The prologue goes on to say that she was delighted that it was so well received but the person who was really pleased with it was herself. I can understand why!
Again being a book of its time, first published in 1939 it isn’t without some racism, in fact part of why it took me such a long time to find a good second-hand copy was because I only wanted one with this, the most modern of its titles, the others too unacceptable for my bookshelf. Even with the new title you can’t get away with some stereotyping about Jews but this wouldn’t have made the nation wince at the time it was written, as it did me. Indeed one of the reasons I like re-reading Agatha Christie’s novels are for the contemporary views at the time they were written, and in this one, although there are fewer examples we do have a few, such as those about the spinster Emily Blunt.
If you are one of those people who haven’t read any of Agatha Christie’s books, this is still my favourite and a great place to experience the Queen of Crime’s ability not only to think up a great plot but to execute it with aplomb!