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Literature: And Then There Were None

Agatha Christie wrote the book in 1939 and later adapted the story into a play in 1943 (with a Revised Ending). The various film versions — including the four English-language films from 1945, 1965, 1975, and 1989 — mostly use the play's ending (or a variation thereof) rather than the book's (which makes sense once you know the book's ending). A Russian version, produced in 1987, became the only major film adaptation to use the novel's original ending. A videogame based on this story, which featured an additional character as an investigator, has Multiple Endings — including the play's ending and the book's original ending — as unlockable content.

The novel has a number of different titles as a direct result of Values Dissonance. Upon its release, the book bore the title Ten Little Niggers (which was not shocking in 1930s Britain). In the US, more sensitive publishers changed the title to And Then There Were None. Even though the book ended up published as Ten Little Indians in both countries, people eventually saw that title as racist. And Then There Were None has more or less become the official standardized title. (The Soviet and the French adaptation retained the original title.)

Any serious mystery fan knows the plot of And The There Were None by heart: Ten people, strangers to each other, receive invitations to an island hideaway — where a mysterious recording accuses each person of causing another person's death. One by one, murders start cropping up amongst the group — each one executed in a fashion similar to those in the "Ten Little Indians" rhyme — and those still alive come to the only possible conclusion: one of them has killed the others. Paranoia and suspicion run high as each person tries to outwit the killer. Who can the survivors trust — and how long will it be before the next Little Indian dies…?

The group of ten, in alphabetical order, consists of:

  • Dr. Edward Armstrong, a medical doctor, who finds himself accused of causing the death of a patient by operating on her while drunk.
  • William Henry Blore, a private investigator and former policeman, who finds himself accused of causing the death of an innocent man by giving false evidence in court and landing him in prison (where, due to his frail health, the victim died).
  • Emily Brent, a dour and staunchly religious woman, who finds herself accused of causing the death of her maid Beatrice by firing her and turning her out of the household when she became pregnant (and thus driving her to suicide).
  • Vera Claythorne, a young former governess turned gym teacher and secretary, who finds herself accused of causing the death of her lover Hugo's little nephew, Cyril, by encouraging him to swim out to sea alone and drown (so Hugo could inherit the estate of Cyril's father).
  • Colonel Philip Lombard, a cool-headed and intelligent man, who finds himself accused of causing the death of twenty-one natives by abandoning them in his brief career as a mercenary in Africa.
  • General John Macarthur, a retired World War I general, who finds himself accused of causing the death of his wife's lover by sending him on a war mission that guaranteed his death.
  • Anthony Marston, a handsome and vain youth with little concern for others, who finds himself accused of causing the deaths of two children by accidentally running over them with his car.
  • Thomas and Ethel Rogers, the butler and the cook charged with accommodating the other eight guests, who find themselves accused of causing the death of their former employer, an old and sick American lady, for monetary gain.
  • Judge Lawrence Wargrave, a retired Hanging Judge with a no-nonsense attitude, who finds himself accused of causing the death of an accused murderer by steering the jury into sentencing him to death (despite the evidence supporting his innocence).

Which one of these ten hated the others so much that they would choose to kill them?

This story serves as the Trope Namer for the tropes "Ten Little Murder Victims" and "Acquitted Too Late", as well as the partial inspiration for the board game and film Clue.

The "U.N. Owen" of this story provides inspiration for, but has no direct relation to, the popular song "U.N. Owen Was Her?".


The original book contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Acquitted Too Late: The Trope Namer; Judge Wargrave remarks that only the dead are above suspicion. However, it's more of an Invoked Trope here than a straight example; once the "death proves innocence" idea is set in the party's minds, the killer fakes his own death to throw suspicion off himself.
  • Asshole Victim: None of the victims is exactly an innocent, though a few are sympathetic to varying degrees.
  • Anyone Can Die
  • Ax-Crazy: Vera, and to a lesser extent Wargrave.
  • Brainless Beauty: Anthony Marston.
  • The Butler Did It: Averted; Mr. Rogers is one of the first characters to be killed off. Played straight in the backstory, where he and his wife aka the landlady did commit the crime they were accused of.
  • Censored Title: Originally titled Ten Little Niggers; later versions were changed to Ten Little Indians or And Then There Were None. Desyat Negrityat, the Soviet movie version, actually kept the original title and translated it into Russian despite being produced in 1987 (though the term is not really offensive in Russian).
    • Recent versions have changed the in-world 'ten little Indians' poem to 'ten little soldiers', or 'ten little sailor-boys' in the video game.
    • Despite the word "nègre" being as offensive as its English equivalent " nigger" the original title was retained in the French edition Dix petits nègres
  • Chekhov's Gun: he hook on the ceiling in Vera's room. To a lesser extent, the rhyme when it is first introduced may also count.
    • In addition, the marble bear clock in Vera's room (briefly mentioned near the beginning), which is later used to kill Blore.
  • The Chessmaster: The killer, with an elaborate Gambit Roulette.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The storm that just happened to show up and prevent any would-be escapee from swimming away from the island.
  • Downer Ending: There's a reason why only the Russian movie adaptation uses it.
  • Driven to Suicide: Beatrice Taylor (Emily Brent's 'victim') and also Vera Claythorne.
    • In the first movie, Emily's victim is changed to her wayward nephew.
    • In the game, Wargrave's victim (Steel's lover) committed suicide after being found guilty in court.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Hugo Hamilton became an alcoholic after he realized that Vera killed Cyril for him.
  • Empathic Environment: The worsening weather coincides with the worsening situation on the island.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The guests arrived on Indian Island on the 8th of August. According to the epilogue, a distress signal was spotted on the 11th, with the events shortly after resulting in the deaths of everyone left on the island, and a rescue party was sent on the 12th.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis
  • Foregone Conclusion: At first glance, the American title seems like it's just trying to entice the reader by using the last line of the nursery rhyme it follows. In actuality, anyone who's read the book knows that it's actually telling you how many characters will be left at the end.
  • For the Evulz: An unusual example, the killer admits that his main motive was that he felt compelled to murder people, but his Knight Templar tendencies mean that he still feels that all of his victims have to be people who deserve it; that is, they had carried out murders that the law couldn't punish them for, but that a vigilante could.
  • Gambit Roulette
  • Hanging Judge: Wargrave.
  • Haunted Heroine: Vera Claythorne.
  • Holier Than Thou: Emily Brent.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: One of Christie's favourite tropes, and in this book it's central to the plot.
  • It's All About Me: Anthony Marston completely fails to understand that the death of John and Lucy Combes was not just about the inconvenience of losing his license. The killer's opinion is that Marston's overdose of this trope makes him an extreme danger to himself and others, and removing him would be doing the entire community a favor.
  • Kill 'em All
  • Knight Templar: Wargrave, who was a borderline psychopath, but still retained some morals and preferred to use the law and what he considered justice to get what he wanted, meaning that he targeted only those who were guilty.
  • Last Survivor Suicide Managed twice in the same book. First we see Vera committing suicide in guilt and then in the epilogue we see Wargrave, who we now learn was alive at the time, commit suicide to leave a perfect puzzle and to complete his view of justice (He had been innocent in his view until the murders).
  • Locked Room Mystery: All that is left at the end is a bunch of dead bodies on an island. The times and manners of death are completely contradictory and baffle the police.
  • Message in a Bottle: Discovered at the end.
  • Mind Rape: The "mundane" version, that is. Every single victim goes through it, thanks to U.N. Owen, and the one who gets the worst of it is Vera Claythorne.
  • Murder By Inaction: An old couple who are accused of doing this to their previous mistress to inherit from her.
  • Murder-Suicide: Wargrave commits suicide after arranging the deaths of everyone else, as he feels himself to be no better than his victims. Besides, he's dying anyway (it's very vaguely implied that he has late-stage cancer) and prefers to go out on his own terms.
    • Vera commits suicide by hanging after shooting Lombard on the beach.
  • Name's the Same: After World War II, the character named "General Macarthur" became Hilarious in Hindsight. Christie changed his name to "McKenzie" in later adaptations.
  • Old Dark House: Actually a normal, recently-built modern house in the novel. The narrator remarks that, to some of the guests, the horror of the situation is actually exacerbated by it taking place in a nice modern house with no grotesque Gothic architectural features, no hidden nooks or dark corners, and nice bright electric lighting (when the generator's running).
  • The Perfect Crime
  • Poetic Serial Killer
  • Pride: Miss Brent is consumed by it.
  • Psychological Thriller: The book has elements of this.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Okay, "redemption" might be a strong word, but most of the guests begin to feel varying degrees of guilt about their crimes. Even Emily Brent has nightmares about the girl she drove to suicide, and Vera suffers worst of all— in fact, she chooses to hang herself rather than remain alive with her guilt.
  • Red Herring: Referred to in the poem; one character points it out, but with the wrong interpretation.
  • Red Herring Mole: While every single character is a suspect (right up until they die), the one who gains the most suspicion in the latter half of the book is Doctor Armstrong, who of course turns out to only have been a pawn in the serial killer's game.
  • Serial Killer
  • Serial-Killer Killer: Sort of. The victims were not strictly Serial Killers, but guilty of a single murder or manslaughter.
  • Shout-Out: An obscure one. Vera Claythorne mentions a story in which two Supreme Court judges come to an American town and administer justice - but they aren't really from this world at all. The reference is to The New Administration by Melville Davisson Post.
  • Significant Monogram: U. N. Owen is discovered to be a Sue Donym, standing for "Unknown".
  • Sociopathic Hero: Philip Lombard, to some degree.
    • Also Wargrave, who basically describes himself as someone who likes killing and inflicting pain, but only does so to those he feels they deserve it by law.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: How the killer sees the killings. From the guy who accidentally runs over two children to the woman who deliberately sends a child to drown so she can be with her boyfriend.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: Trope Namer, obviously.
  • Thanatos Gambit
  • Theme Serial Killer: The deaths were patterned after the "Ten Little Indians" rhyme.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Anthony Marston
  • Uriah Gambit: Macarthur's method of killing his wife Leslie's lover. It's mentioned that afterwards, he always skipped church when Uriah's story was scheduled to be read.
  • UST: Lombard and Vera, although it's only hinted at in a couple of places and never really goes anywhere.
  • Vigilante Execution
  • Vigilante Man: U. N. Owen.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Or wasps and bees, in Miss Brent's case.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Vera Claythorne.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Played straight with Philip Lombard and Vera Claythorne with disastrous results, as she shoots him to death.

The various adaptations of this book contain examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Christie's theatrical adaption has two of the ten characters innocent of the crimes of which they were accused, survive, and fall in love. Ironically these were the two whom the murderer considered the most guilty, and therefore saved them till last.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: In the 1945 film, the killer tried to persuade Vera to hang herself, as "the only survivor found on an island with nine corpses will certainly be hanged. Take a piece of friendly advice; do it now, privately." What he didn't know was that Lombard aka Charles Morley was still alive.
  • Bladder of Steel: If you want to listen to the culprit's entire Motive Rant at the end of the game, you'd better make a quick trip to the bathroom first.
  • The Butler Did It: Invoked in the game by Blore when you ask him who he thinks did it. It's still averted, however.
  • Darker and Edgier: The 1987 Russian version. The first victim crashes through a plate and gets the glass stuck in the face, and the UST between Vera and Lombard culminates in him raping her.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: A plot twist not in the book but in several of the movie versions reveals "Philip Lombard" is really Charles Morley who came in Lombard's place after the real Lombard committed suicide upon receiving U.N. Owen's letter. And in the game, you have two dead person impersonators; one is Morley, the other is Gabrielle Steel masquerading as Emily Brent, whom she did away with earlier as part of her plan.
  • Disney Death: Lombard in the 1943 play and the 1989 film.
  • Fanservice: In the 1965 adaptation, Shirley Eaton, in the role of Vera, gets quite a few scenes in her underwear and at least one modesty towel. In the Russian version, Vera also gets a scene in her black underwear, which is followed by a bare back shot minutes later with Lombard... as he begins to rape her. Er, yeah...
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the play, Emily Brent makes various comments on Vera Claythorne not wanting to appear flashy to her hostess right before making a nasty comment on how tight her dress appears (with Vera, of course, being utterly naive as to what she really means). And then there are the various instances of Lombard flirting with Vera, which include Lombard's line about being regretful he and Vera did not wake up at the same time because they could've gone down to the ocean to "have a bathe" together.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The 1965 version changed the elderly spinster character to a glamorous actress solely to allow another beautiful woman to be cast (a change that would be retained in both the 1975 and 1989 versions). It was also the first adaptation of a Christie work to contain a sex scene (which had not been present in the original novel). Christie was not pleased.
    • Well how do ya like that. Subverted in the PC game. A glamorous, or more accurately, an aging, washed-up, glamorous actress who got a little too into a character and never quite got out, killed the spinster and took her place.
  • Large Ham: Every actor who has portrayed the Anthony Marston equivalent in the Hollywood adaptations. Mischa Auer in particular could be said to the worst offender.
  • Lighter and Softer: The play and 1945 movie version fall under this, as do the Harry Alan Towers adaptations.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Justified with Patrick in the game as he did not expect to be stranded on the island, but played straight with the other guests.
    • A particularly jarring example occurs later in the game during a cut scene, and what follows afterwards. Apparently, the remaining few guests didn't even bother packing pajamas.
  • Love Triangle: Between Lombard, Vera, and Patrick in the game.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: In Christie's own theatrical adaptation and many of the following adaptations, the murderer's plan unintentionally involves this, as two of the nine characters he believes are guilty are actually innocent. Fortunately they both survive, averting the trope.
  • Multiple Endings: The video game has slightly different endings depending on how you play it. The best ending allows three people to be saved, the next is just two surviving and the worst ending is your survival.
  • Not His Sled: The video game adaptation makes the killer's identity different from in the book. Additionally, all but one of the film adaptations avert the book's Kill 'em All ending.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Some stage versions place Judge Lawrence Wargrave in a wheelchair, leading to a dramatic reveal of the murderer, possibly as an obscure reference to another famous Agatha Christie show.
  • Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending
  • Psycho Lesbian: The 1989 film adaptation had Emily Brent replaced by Marion (Brenda Vaccaro), an actress who killed her lesbian lover when she started blackmailing her.
  • Psychological Thriller: The Russian movie version expands on the elements already present in the book and it works very, very well.
  • Revised Ending: When Agatha Christie adapted her own novel for the stage, she felt that the ending wasn't dramatically satisfying for the stage, so she altered it so the novel's most sympathetic characters were innocent, survived, and fell in love. The 1945 film altered this ending yet again, introducing Charles Morley, who came to the island impersonating his friend Lombard, in order to find out why Lombard killed himself after receiving U.N. Owen's letter. These two variations on the happy ending were used for nearly all the adaptations. This was surprisingly averted in both the Russian move version and Kevin Elyot's 2005 stage adaptation, both of which kept the novel's original ending.
  • Right-Hand Cat: In the 1945 film adaptation Wargrave holds and strokes the house cat while explaining his scheme to Vera.
  • Ship Tease: The film adaptations, especially the 1965 one, crank up the UST between Lombard and Vera into a full-fledged relationship.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Vera and Lombard (or Morley, depending on the adaptation.)
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Vera in the play and the English language films; Lombard in the play and the 1989 films (the adaptations featuring Charles Morley had Lombard commit suicide before the story began.)
  • Take Your Time: At one point in the game, Patrick is poisoned and is told he must find the antidote within an hour or else he'll die...except no matter how much stalling you do, Patrick will only occasionally mention that he doesn't feel well, but otherwise nothing will happen until you find the antidote.

  • Video Game Caring Potential: You can do small favors for a few guests (such as giving Miss Brent some apple juice) in return for learning some revealing information about the others. Also, at the end of the game, you have the option of saving the victims.
  • You Look Familiar: Herbert Lom played Dr. Armstrong in the 1975 film version and General Macarthur (renamed General Romensky) in the 1989 film version.
American PsychoPsychological ThrillerBad Monkeys
Amelia PeabodyMystery LiteratureAnonymous Rex
Arsène LupinCrime FictionAngels and Demons
Brighton RockThe Great DepressionThe Big Sleep
The African QueenLiterature of the 1930sAlamut
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to SideCreator/Agatha ChristieThe Mousetrap

alternative title(s): Ten Little Indians; Twelve Little Indians; And Then There Were None
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