Master of Mystery and the Writing Process: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is the master and And Then There Were None is the perfect murder mystery novel.

Ten people from all walks of life are invited to an island mansion by a mysterious figure, a Mr. U. N. Owen. One of them dies. Then another. They realize there’s a murderer in their midst and any of them could be next. It’s a locked room murder, executed on the grandest scale.

Christie deploys shifting points of view to build the tension and suspense. Keeping track of 10 characters is confusing at the start, even though Christie gives us a slice of everyone’s point of view. The beginning of the novel is deliberately chaotic: the reader is trying to figure out who all these people are just as the islands occupants are doing the same. Even as the lies and the body count both pile up, there’s just enough that could be happening “off-screen,” just enough doubt, to make the mystery inscrutable to the last page. The murders are just odd and theatrical enough to keep the pages turning. In an afterword that’s a well-deserved humble brag, Christie reveals who the culprit is and how they conceived and committed the act. The reveal of the “true” story only underscores how well-crafted the novel itself is.

Novelists give all kinds of advice on the novel writing process. From “write what you know” to “let the characters take you for a ride,” a lot of fiction writers suggest that novel writing comes from a stroke of genius, inaccessible to the rest of us. And Then There Were None illustrates that novel writing need not be so mystical. Agatha Christie’s masterpiece is the result of clear and careful planning of both what the plot is and the most evocative and suspenseful voices to convey that narrative. Christie, without doubt, is creative and macabre, but And Then There Were None works because of careful planning and carefully subtle writing.

Planning, care, revision. Exactly what your English teacher told you about how the writing process works. In my view, that makes Christie’s badge of mystery mastery shine that much more brightly.

Up Next? All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Why? I’m hankering for some political escapism and this Pulitzer Prize winning novel seems like the ticket.

Preview of Coming Attraction: I’m reading The Miracle Worker by William Gibson with Ms. Holmes, too!

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