Ten people are invited to mysterious and desolate Indian Island off the coast of Devon, England. The diverse group includes “Mr. Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench”; Vera Claythorne, “games mistress in a third-class school”; self-absorbed playboy Tony Marston; the pharisaical Emily Brent; and the butler and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers.
Not long after the group arrives at the large, isolated house on the island, Vera notices a poem above the fireplace: “Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; / One choked his little self and then there were nine. . . .” She realizes that the macabre poem is somehow tied to the name of the island, as are the ten little Indian figurines that adorn the dining room table.
After dinner, still uncertain as to why they have been invited, the guests are stunned when a recorded voice announces that each of them hides a secret from their past: each is guilty of murder.
The guests soon realize that their host, Mr. U. N. Owen, is not going to arrive. Or perhaps he—or she?—is already there, hiding somewhere on the island? Or is one of the guests. . . ?
After dinner, Justice Wargrave assembles the guests to assess their situation: “I’ve no doubt in my own mind that we have been invited here by a madman—probably a dangerous homicidal lunatic. . . . ” As the evening wears on, several guests admit that the accusations against them are true, although they attempt to justify their actions by claiming extenuating circumstances in each case.
The evening comes to a shocking close when Tony Marston sips a drink and drops down dead—a victim of cyanide poisoning. After the frightened guests turn in for the night, Rogers notices that one of the ten figurines has disappeared.
The group is trapped on the island—no boat will be arriving. One by one, the guests succumb to the bizarre deaths that “U. N. Owen” has deemed appropriate to their crime, each death modeled on a stanza of the nursery rhyme. The list of suspects narrows—and the figurines continue disappearing—until only three guests are left . . . then two . . . then just one . . . “and then there were none.”
The mystery isn’t solved until the last chapter, “A Manuscript Document Sent to Scotland Yard by the Master of the Emma Jane, Fishing Trawler.”