Let's be honest: And Then There Were None is not great literature. It’s filled with stock characters and clichés. And it's not even a watertight plot. The murderer’s plan for killing people according to the dictates of a children’s poem could have gone wrong in any number of ways. There’s no way, for example, that the murderer could have predicted that X, destined to be the third victim, would give in to despair and fall right in line with the poem’s third stanza. When the guests realize what’s going on, they could simply have barricaded themselves in their rooms. Or set the house on fire—that would have brought folks from the mainland!
Nonetheless, And Then There Were None is great fun—a wonderful diversion, a really enjoyable reading experience—and a classic of the mystery genre. The plot moves along quickly. It's certainly one of Agatha Christie’s best. I would put it in my top four favorites, along with Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Crooked House.
Christie had comparatively little to say about this work in her autobiography: “I had written the book . . . because it was so difficult to do that the idea had fascinated me. Ten people had to die without it becoming ridiculous or the murderer being obvious. I wrote the book after a tremendous amount of planning, and I was pleased with what I had made of it. It was clear, straightforward, baffling, and yet had a perfectly reasonable explanation; in fact I had to have an epilogue in order to explain it. It was well received and reviewed, but the person who was really pleased with it was myself, for I knew better than any critic how difficult it had been” (An Autobiography, 457).
I find nearly all of Christie’s works fun and mentally stimulating. And I enjoy being fooled, repeatedly thinking I know who the murderer is, only to find out that I’m wrong. That fun is heightened in this book because the list of suspects keeps shrinking. You may think X did it—until he dies. The pious Y would make a good murderer—but then she dies too. How about Z? A logical suspect until he mysteriously disappears . . .
And Then There Were None is highly recommended for any mystery fan . . . or any lover of literature (even if it’s not great literature) who wants their intellect piqued, their nerves strung a little tighter, and their emotions lifted by a clever divertissement.
Isaac Anderson, The New York Times Book Review, 25 February 1940: “It is the most baffling mystery that Agatha Christie has ever written, and if any other writer has ever surpassed it for sheer puzzlement the name escapes our memory. We are referring, of course, to mysteries that have logical explanations, as this one has. It is a tall story, to be sure, but it could have happened.”
The Toronto Daily Star, 16 March 1940: “Others have written better mysteries than Agatha Christie, but no one can touch her for ingenious plot and surprise ending. With And Then There Were None . . . she is at her most ingenious and most surprising.”
Maurice Richardson, The Observer, 5 November 1939: “[And Then There Were None] is one of the very best, most genuinely bewildering Christies yet written. We will . . . have to refrain from reviewing it thoroughly, as it is so full of shocks that even the mildest revelation would spoil some surprise from somebody, and I am sure that you would rather have your entertainment kept fresh than criticism pure. . . . Story telling and characterisation are right at the top of Mrs. Christie’s baleful form. Her plot may be highly artificial, but it is neat, brilliantly cunning, soundly constructed, and free from any of those red-herring false trails which sometimes disfigure her work.”