“…I determined to commit not one murder, but murder on a grand scale…”

Well, there we go – the explanation of the whole thing. I thought it very neatly tied the whole thing together. I remember the first time I read the first page or so of this letter – especially since Wargrave’s name doesn’t appear till the last page – thinking, “Hang on . . . this sounds like Wargrave. But he’s dead, isn’t it?”

Once I’d got that settled in my head that maybe he wasn’t, then the whole explanation made sense. Part of the fun of this denouement is just the grand style in which Wargrave unveils his plot. (A grand unraveling is usually a trademark of Agatha Christie’s book, but normally it’s done by this detective. Here we have it unveiled by the murdered.)

I haven’t watched it yet (but it’s on my shelf ready to go), but I understand that Agatha Christie’s stage adaptation of this novel, and subsequent film versions have a slightly different ending. (I’m not sure, but I think it goes something like Vera shoots Lombard, walks back in the house, Wargrave comes out, and then in another twist Lombard shows up to her rescue, because they’d planned together that he should pretend to be dead.) While this allows for a nice ending, for me, the true effect needs to be the chilling realisation that the Judge killed everyone and then killed himself. A far more effective ending, and certainly the one I’d use if I was making a film of it today.

So there you have it – And Then There Were None. I still think it’s the original and best of these type of stories.

We’ve mentioned some of the spin-offs from this story. Obviously, any story where there’s a bunch of people being picked off one by one owes a debt to this story.

Harper’s Island, the recent TV series, mercilessly ripped off the concept, only to stuff it up horrendously. Identity (which Dave worried was the same twist) clearly owes a debt to this story. If you haven’t seen it, and you have the stomach for it, Identity is a very clever usage of the idea of 10 people being killed off one at a time, but with a logic of its own, and a completely different ending.

In terms of the killer, there’s a certain similarity between Wargrave and Jigsaw, the killer from Saw (which you need to have even more of a stomach for). Jigsaw (also suffering from a terminal illness) takes it upon himself to harass people who he doesn’t consider worth living. That’s a completely different premise, and quite a bit nastier, but the writers (at least of the original film) had the same sense of cleverness about it all.

Well, hopefully, none of you felt cheated by the ending (my apologies if you did). This was fun enough that I might do another Agatha Christie at some stage down the track. I’ll see how it goes. Thanks to all who participated (either commenting or uncommenting) – especially those who showed the remarkable restraint of being able to read the book over three weeks instead of all in one go…

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3 thoughts on “And Then There Were None – Letter in a Bottle

  1. I was okay with the ending. I was probably hoping for something completely mindbending, but then, I pretty much hope for that in every story/TV show/movie I read/watch.

    This ending, while not the mindbender I’d hoped for, was clever enough to leave me happy. It all made some kind of morbid sense. Could anybody really have deduced the murderer? AC explained that the one who wasn’t guilty of murder in the outside world was, logically, the one guilty on the island, which appealed to me. But I’m not sure a reader could have deduced the answer with any confidence. Maybe I’m wrong.

    Ah well. The book is short enough for me to reread before returning and watch the judge more closely.

    Thanks for doing this, Matt. I really enjoyed it. Count me in for the next project.

  2. It would be hard work to have picked that, I think. A satisfying ending, leaving me frustrated that I didn’t pick it for myself, but not feeling like I’d missed something blindingly obvious.

    Thanks for hosting it Matt. I was craving my daily fix of AC far more than for Tolstoy: I think it’s because it’s easier to see the finish line, and there’s not as many chapters of philosophy interspersed with narrative!

  3. Apologies if I built it up a little *too* much. But there wasn’t really any other great twist that could be done (without getting supernatural or having secret tunnels to the mainland, and the latter would have been cheating, to my mind).

    As to whether anyone *could* have guessed the answer with any confidence, the answer is probably no. But that’s the same for most of Agatha’s books. In nearly all cases, there are so many layers of red herrings laid across the trail that it’s really hard to pick the killer.

    However, her endings are (nearly) always fair. As in, if you go back and read it, the endings make sense. But seriously, out of the 65 or so books of hers I’ve read so far (still roughly another 20 to go), I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve outguessed her. And even then, it’s only been a vague hunch – the complete mechanics of the solution have always been beyond me.

    To me, she will always be the queen of convoluted plots. And I think this book, more than any other, proves her genius. She was a clever, clever woman.

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