Sunday, October 16, 2011

And Then There Were None

I started reading Agatha Christie in my early teens, but And Then There Were None sort of fell through the cracks. It's one of her 'classics' but I didn't read it until I was in my 30s. Granted, I had two separate copies which became soaked beyond repair (one due to an air conditioner compressor leak, the other due to a dorm refrigerator oozing onto that book's replacement copy), but somehow left copy #3 on the shelf for a decade before reading it, and another decade before my first, RAL-based re-read.

And Then There Were None is a classic locked room mystery. Ten people are stranded on an island, and one by one they're murdered. A few days later, the police arrive to find ten murder victims and no murderer. Some time later, the murderer's confession washes ashore as a message in a bottle, and it's truly ingenious. It also brings up the issues of culpability, revenge, and justice.

Each of the ten victims was responsible, in a way, for a death that was not classified as murder, and one person decided to dispense justice. The least culpable and/or most remorseful died quickly, while the guiltier, less remorseful killers spent days dealing with increasing paranoia. Was, however, the killer accurate in assessing guilt? Anthony Marsden, the first victim committed vehicular manslaughter - but was he reckless (a higher degree of guilt) or merely careless (as the murderer decided)? Vera Claythorn felt deeply guilty for her crime, and yet didn't show it and was therefore considered unremorseful by the killer. Emily Brent seemed almost proud that she indirectly caused the death of her pregnant out of wedlock maid but was deemed less guilty - was that because she was a step removed, or because dismissing her employee followed the social norms of the day? And was the murderer dispensing justice or a psychopath rationalizing revenge?

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