My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a trip back through time this re-read was. I was introduced to the world of mystery novels at my grandmother’s house, filled with shelves and shelves and boxes and more boxes of books. Those shelves and boxes–and my grandmother, of course–gave me my love of the whodunit, of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot and Roderick Alleyn and Perry Mason and Adam Dalgliesh and Father Brown, when I was still in grade school. Move on to the new-fangled delights of Kinsey Millhone and Spenser-with-an-s and Elvis Cole and and and …you’ve got a lifelong love. My grandparents’ house was a pretty special place too. I used to curl up on someone’s bed, or go out under a shade tree in the summer, and be pulled through one or even two books a day. I swear I could smell my grandfather’s pipe smoke as I read this.
And yes, this is that book, the one originally called “Ten Little Niggers,” but retitled because the n-word was too much for the American book market even in the 1940’s. It was changed to “Ten Little Indians” because of the children’s rhyme used throughout. That became unacceptable as well and leaves us with the modern title, the last line of the rhyme: And Then There Were None.
I’ve seen stories claiming the island that inspired the book was actually called Nigger’s Island, later changed to Soldier’s Island, but I can’t find anything to back that up. I did find something about the name of the island in the play being changed that way. I also found a Wikipedia article (I know, I know, but sources are cited) about Burgh Island, which seems most likely. It does look like a grand place for a murderous weekend. Or a romantic weekend with your honey. Or a nice place to get away from it all with your own fine self and a good mystery novel.
I can’t say the book stands the test of time as far as the writing goes. It was published in 1939, and it shows. The language is dated and the characters more wooden, the plot more bare-bones, than modern readers expect from modern writers. We want our meat and juice and bone and gristle, aaarrrggh! But you have to give credit where it is due to Dame Christie, even if she did have some pretty racist moments that were typical for the time. If you want a taste of one of the writers who laid the foundation for the modern detective/crime novel, this is the stuff.