Ten people get murdered on an island. Who is the killer?
Eight people travel to Nigger Island, a small island off the Devon Coast. They have all been invited to come to this island, on different pretexts. Six of these people travel by plain. They are Mr Justice Wargrave, Vera Claythorne, Philip Lombard, Miss Emily Brent, General MacArthur and Mr Blore. The other two, Dr Armstrong and Anthony Marston, are driving their own cars. Mr Blore has the names of all the guests and decides that he will pose as a South African. None of these guests know who the owner of the island is. On the island there are only a butler and his wife, Mr and Mrs Rogers.
Two taxis are waiting at the railway station to take the party to Stricklehaven, where a boat is waiting to take them to Nigger Island. The owner of the boat, Fred Narracott, wonders about the quees group of people Mr Owen has invited and he realizes that he has never seen Mr Owen. He tells Philp Lombard that with a south-easterly wind he cannot land on Nigger Island. When they arrive on the island, Mr Rogers tells the guests that Mr Owen has been delayed.
Vera Claythorne finds a piece of parchment with a poem on it over the mantlepiece in her room. The poem is a nursery rhyme about ten little niggers who disappear one by one intil there are none left. Dr Armstrong and Justuce Wargrave realize that they have met before in the courtroom.
At the dinner table the guests become acquainted with one another. Anthony Marston suddenly draws the attention to ten little china figures of negro boys. The guests then discorver that the nursery rhyme of the ten little niggers is in every room.
Then a voice is heard which accuses each of the guests and the butler and his wife of being guilty of murder. On investigation Philip Lombard finds a gramaphone in an adjoining room with a record on it with the text they have just heard. Roger admits having put the record on, obeying Mr Owen's written orders. The guests then compare their invitations and see that most of them are signed U.N. Owen, which sounds almost like 'unknown'.
Justice Wargrave remarks that this Mr Owen has found out a lot about the people now gathered on the island. He himself is accused of having murdered Edward Seton and he tells the others about the Seton case. Seton was found guilty and executed. Wargrave also says that he had not known Seton before the case, but Armstrong knows he is lying.
Each of the members of the group explains the connection there was with a murdered person, except Miss Brent, who refuses to say anything. Vera Claythoren tells the others how a boy who was in her charge was drowned in her presence. General MacArthur denies the allegation that Arthur Richmond, who was killed while doing reconnaissance work under MacArthur's command, was his wife's lover. Philip Lombard admits that he deliberately abandoned 21 natives in teh jungle. Anthony Marston remembers running over two children in his car, which, he says, was bad luck. Rogers denies any responsibility for the death of Miss Brady, even though he inherited a sum of money form her. Mr Blore says that he was doing his duty when he handed a bank robber over to the police. Dr Armstrong claims that he cannot remember a patient by the name of Louisa Mary Clees, but he does remember being drunk when he performed an operation.
Justice Wargrave then proposes to leave the island in the morning. Anthony Marston is the only one who wishes to solve the mistery, but when he takes a drink he falls from his chair and is dead. Dr Armstrong tells the others that Marston has been poisoned. A few minutes later Roger discovers that one of the china figures in the dining room has disappeared.
When the guests have withdrawn to their rooms Justice Wargrave remembers how he had enjoyed making sure that Seton would be convinced. General McArthur keeps thinking of the discovery of a love letter of his wife to Arthur Richmond. Vera Claythorne cannot stop thinking how she gave Cyril permission to swim out too far, knowing that if he drowned, his uncle Hugo, whom Vera wanted to mary, would inherit a large fortune. When she gets up and looks at the poem she notices the resemblence between the first death in the poem and Anthony Marston's death.
Dr Armstrong is dreaming about the operating room and about a scalpel, when he is awakened by Rogers, who tells him that he cannot wake up his wife. Dr Armstrong immediately sees that she is dead.
In the morning there is no boat and a storm is rising. Lombard and Blore come to the conclusion that the boat will not come and that they will not be allowed to leave the island. Roger tells Dr Armstrong that only eight china figures are left. Vera Claythorne and Miss Emily Brent are also waiting for the boat to come. Miss Brent tells Vera that she had dismissed her servant girl Beatrice Taylor as soon as she found out that the girl was pregnant. That same night the girl, who had nowhere to go, took her own life.
Dr Armstrong and Philip Lombard discuss the state of affairs. They come to the conclusion that the two dead people had committed crimes for which they would never have been punished. Therefore they have been killed by someone on the island. They decide to start looking for U.N. Owen, and ask Blore to help them.
The search of the small island reveals nothing. Deneral MacArthur gives as his opinion that none of them are going to leave the island alive. The house is also searched, but again the result is negative. Blore only discovers that Lombard has brought a revolver. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the murderer must be one of the eight people on the island.
General MacArthur does not turn up for lunch. He is found dead, hit on teh head by some heavy object. Again one of the china fiures is missing.
The remaining members of the group discuss the situation and become suspicious of each other. Philip Lombard wants to leave the women out of the group of suspects, but Justice Wargrave strongly disagrees. He even throws suspicion on Miss Brent who has refused to say anything. Then Justice wargrave warns them all to be on their guard. The next morning breakfast has not been prepareed and Rogers cannot be found in his room. Some time later they find him dead, with a deep wound at the back of his head. When Vera thinks of how the nursery rhhyme in the bedroom works out she becomes hysterical, and she is slapped in the face by Dr Armstrong.
Wargrave wants to discuss the situation again. When Miss Emily Brent fails to turn up for the meeting, she is discovered still sitting int h same chair in front of the open window, killed by a poisenous injection. The hypodermic Syringe was taken from Dr Armstrong's bag. Now the remaining guests decide to search each other and to collect all dangerous objects and materials, but Lombard's gun cannot be found. They are all very frightened and suspiciously watch eatch other. They decide to stay together and only one at a time will be allowed to leave the room.
When Vera withdraws to her room and stands at the window, she suddenly feels a clammy hand round her throat and she starts screaming. The others hurry to her room and find out it was the seaweed hanging from the ceiling that touched her throat. But then they notice Justice Wargrave is not with them. They find him sitting in his chair shot through the head.
Only four guests remain who now withdraw to their rooms to catch some sleep. Philip Lombard is amazed when he finds his revolver in a drawer of his bedside table.
Blore, who cannot sleep, hears someone moving along the corridor. He decides to find out who it is by knocking on the doors of the others. Only Dr Armstrong does not answer, so now they think that he is the murderer. THey start looking, but cannot find him. Only three china figures are left on the table.
During the night the weather changes. Lombard, Blore and Vera Claythorne decide to stay outside after breakfast, because they feel safer there. When Blore goes into the house to get some food a heavy marble clock is thrown out of a window and crushes his skull. Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard draw the conclusion that Dr Armstrong is hiding in the house, but they suddenly spot his body betwwen some rocks down by the sea. Now only Vera and Lombard are left. Vera manages to steal Lombard's revolver and shoots him. SHe feels relieved when all is over. But when she goes inside the house she sees only one little nigger and she tries to remember the last line of the poem. It runs 'he went and hanged himself and then there where none.' Terribly frightened she opens a door and sees a noose hanging down from the ceiling and a chair to stand upon. Her nerves have been shattered these few days and she steps onto the chair and hangs herself.
Commissioners and inspectors of Scotland Yard cannot make head or tail of the mystery. They cannot discover who has killed these ten people. They discover that a man called Isaac Morris, who made all the arrangements to buy Nigger Island, is also dead. The police are als puzzled by the fact that the chair which Vera Claythorne has kicked away, was neatly put back against the wall.
Later a manuscript is found in a bottle, picked up by a fisherman, In it Mr Justice Wargrave explains how and why he has killed all these people. They all deserved punishment and could not be touched by the law. He himself was suffering from an incuraable disease. With the help of Dr Armstrong he had arranged the scene in which he pretended to have been shot, in order to confuse the others. After he had killed everyone else, he shot himself in such an ingenious way that the police could not detect that he had oulled the trigger. Wargrave had also poisoned Morris before leaving London, because he held Morris responsible for the death of a 21-year-old girl.
Justice Wargrave is a retired judge who murdered his guests for justice. He does not change in the story. He shoots himself in the head.
Vera Claythorne is a teacher at a girl's school. She is the last remaining geust and she hangs herself at the end. In the beginning she's quite relaxed but once all the guests are dead she turns into a nervous wreck.
Philip Lombard, traveller and adventurer, gets shot by Vera Claythorne
Emily Brent is a religious old lady. She is given a lethal injection and dies.
John Gordon MacArthur, a retired General. He is hit in the head from behind and dies.
George Armstrong is a physician. He is found dead between the rocks at the edge of the sea.
Anthony Marston is a young bachelor. His drink is poisoned and he chokes to death.
W. Henry Blore is an ex-policeman. He dies of an heavy marble-clock falling on him from an up stairs window.
The ten little niggers in the title are the ten people on Nigger island. Their successive murders closely resemble the disappearence of the ten little niggers in the nursery rhyme.
Ten Little Niggers is a detective novel, a genre of which Agatha Christie is a master. She knows how to create suspense. A detective novel is based on the solution of a crime. The circumstances of the crime are often mysterious and the solution must be surprising but logical. Usually the crime is solved by a detective or a police officer. It is remarkable that in Ten Little Niggers there is no detective and that the crime would never have been solved if the criminal, Mr Justice Wargrave, had not been so proud of his 'perfect' crime, that he could not stand the idea that he would never be credited with it. So, instead of a detective who gived the solution in the last chapter, we have a manuscript document, which explains everything.
The story is set on Nigger Island, a small island off the coast of Devon. A large rock on the island resembles a negro's head, which explains the name.
In the story no dates are mentioned, but we may safely say that the story takes place some time before 1939.
The book is mainly chronological.
Point Of View
The narrator tells the story through her own eyes and not through the eyes off the character.
The main theme is justice. The people who are killed in the story are all murderers who escaped justice in court and in the name of justice they are suitably punished.
The story is mainly entertainment.
Agatha Christie (1891-1976) was born in Torquay, England. She wrote her first book in 1920. It was The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in which she introduced the now famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Her other famous detective, Miss Marple, was introduced in Murder at the Vicarage. Her masterpiece The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published in 1926. She wrote a total of 77 detective novels, several romantic novels under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott, a great number of short stories and some plays. One of these, the mousetrap, has been running for almost forty years now.
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