Classic crime novel blurs the victim-villain divide

by Haley Versluys correspondent

As their last link to civilization sails away from the island, ten strangers stare at each other with questioning eyes. None of them have met the mysterious host who summoned them here. A framed poem, “Ten Little Soldiers,” hangs from the wall, and ten soldier figurines taunt them from the table. Suddenly, a prerecorded voice ominously fills the room.

The guests are informed that their crimes have been discovered and that they will be judged for what they have hidden. An overwhelming feeling of foreboding settles in the air with the silence. Just as the guests begin to discuss their predicament, Tony Marston drinks poison and promptly dies. These now nine strangers are left with the inevitable knowledge that they may never make it off this island, and that the killer is most likely among them.

Agatha Christie, known by her fans as the beloved Queen of Crime, wrote her thrilling masterpiece “And Then There Were None” in 1939. For many literature lovers and crime enthusiasts alike, Christie’s novels are known for being the most detailed, page-turning and classically suspenseful of all mystery books. “And Then There Were None” is certainly no exception. With every page, the reader feels the same tension, distrust and strange comradery that the characters are experiencing. As they die one by one, the reader empathizes with their terror mixed with hope for their survival.

The guests soon begin to realize that each one of their deaths correspond with the “Ten Little Soldiers” poem on the wall. And to add to the eerie mystery, a soldier figurine is crushed after each murder. As the strangers outwardly try and discover who among them is the murderer, they inwardly suffer more prominently with guilt from their pasts. It is soon discovered that all the guests of the island committed a crime that was left unpunished. They all battle their inner demons as they wrestle with the consequences of their past actions.

Christie expertly keeps the identity of the murderer a secret as the number of guests diminishes, but there is a more pressing question than the suspenseful whodunit: What is justice? Christie brings life to the complexities of justice and mercy through her writing.

She explores the chaos that results after a man punishes those who in his mind “got what they had coming.” Many crime novels focus on justice for the victims, but what results when the line between victim and murderer is blurred? “And Then There Were None” allows the reader to see their world through the objective eyes of a story.

After reading this book, one is left with the impression that apart from God, justice is defiled, messy and selfish. Humans naturally crave justice; we know God is a God of justice, but without him our personal vendettas are empty. “And Then There Were None” is more than a page-turning novel that keeps its readers up till three in the morning; it is a well-crafted warning to those who passionately seek personal justice apart from God.

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This piece is considered a “standard” article in our print edition.
Quintessential Classics: essential works of art that constructed genres and shaped our culture

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