Sunday, December 7, 2008
Book Report/Ten Little Indians
Ten Little Indians
by Agatha Christie
unabridged audio read by Norman Barrs
In a Grey's Anatomy episode, Cristina says that Meredith is "dark and twisty inside." Well, those are the perfect words to describe each and every one of the characters in Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie. This book is a psychological study of the evil that lies within some human beings. To quote John Lennon, these characters are "crippled inside," and as wicked as any Robert B. Parker or Dennis Lehane has created.
A mysterious fellow named Mr. Owen invites eight people (the two servants make ten) to an island off the Devon coast which he owns, Indian Island. They do not know him, or each other, but they accept his invitation for their own personal reasons. At dinner the first night, Rogers the butler, puts on a record that his boss has ordered him to play for the guests. They are startled to hear the words, "you are charged with the following indictments," followed by a list of deaths the guests, including the butler and his wife, are said to have caused. Very soon afterward, a man who ran over two people as he sped along in his car, and received just a fine, dies after swallowing his drink. That same evening, Rogers' wife also dies. And so it begins. People who have gotten away with murder are slowly killed off in spectacularly original ways, following an old children's rhyme.
Ten little Indian boys went out to dine,
One choked his little self, and then there were nine.
Nine little Indian boys stayed up very late,
One overslept himself, and then there were eight.
It continues until the ending line,
And then there were none.
This is actually an alternate title of the book. There isn't a racial slur on Indians per se in the book, other than the name of the island and the rhyme. The title has changed over the years (one was really bad!), and I think And Then There Were None is more accurate and more frightening. A warning: there are a few serious racial epithets used in the book. It was written in 1939, when they were used much more openly and about all sorts of people and nationalities. I'm not one who believes it is our responsibility in the present day to change words in old books. As much as I wince, and even feel outraged, that's the way they were written.
To go on, this book is so chilling. There isn't a pleasant person or situation to delight in. There is no comic relief. There is just one grisly death after another. Because the people are unknown to one another, no one can vouch for anyone else's good character. After all, they have all heard the recording. They know the dark details of each other's lives. This is the ultimate locked-room mystery, with an island substituted for a room. There is no escape. The island is wide open without hiding places. The house is modern, without the nooks and crannies of an old house. There is no one else on the island, so one of them must be the killer. Uneasy alliances are formed and broken quickly. There are some interior monologues, which reveal what some of the people are thinking about their pasts and the present situation, but they certainly don't give us any great clues into what is going on. I was completely baffled. I would think to myself, ah, that one is the killer, when all of a sudden that person was found dead. Not only is the rhyme followed to the word, but also there are ten little china Indians on the table, and each time a person is killed, one of them disappears.
This is an excellent mystery thriller, and the conclusion was most satisfying, though, indeed, "dark and twisty."