Ten little Indian boys going out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.

Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon;
One said he'd stay and then there were seven.

Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself into halves and then there were six.

Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

Five little Indian boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.

Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.

One little Indian boy left all alone;
He went and hung himself and then there were none.

Classic mystery novel, written by Agatha Christie in 1939. It was originally published in England as "Ten Little Niggers," but the title was changed for publication in America to "And Then There Were None." Eventually, it was decided to call it "Ten Little Indians" and that's how it's still best known today.

The story revolves around ten different characters:

  1. Dr. Edward Armstrong, an overworked surgeon with a drinking problem
  2. William Henry Blore, a former police inspector turned private investigator
  3. Emily Brent, an elderly religious fanatic
  4. Vera Claythorne, a young teacher and former governess
  5. Philip Lombard, an adventurer and soldier-of-fortune
  6. General John Gordon Macarthur, a retired military hero.
  7. Anthony James Marston, a young, handsome daredevil/party animal
  8. Ethel Rogers, the housekeeper with something to hide
  9. Thomas Rogers, the butler and Mrs. Rogers' husband
  10. Judge Lawrence Wargrave, a retired judge known throughout the country for handing down so many death sentences
Each is invited to stay at Mr. Owen's luxurious mansion on isolated Indian Island. Some are given jobs at the island, some are offered vacations. None of them have ever met the mysterious Mr. Owen, and in fact, he does not seem to be on the island at all. In each of the guests' rooms is a framed copy of the children's poem "Ten Little Indians," and the Indian motif continues in the dining room, where ten small china figures of Indian boys can be found on a table. It's a pleasant place to spend a weekend, but things seem odd and tense. Who is Mr. Owen? Why have they all been invited to stay with him?

That evening at dinner, a hidden phonograph starts up, and a voice is heard accusing each of the guests of murder.

A crude prank, surely. For some amusing, for others horrifying. Mr. Owen had best explain himself when he gets to the house.

And then one of the guests drops dead, poisoned. And one of the china Indians is found smashed on the floor.

The next day, another is dead. Then another, and another. Each death chillingly mirrors the children's rhyme, and no one manages to escape suspicion.

Is it Lombard or Blore, both trained in the arts of violence? Is it Dr. Armstrong, with his knowledge of chemicals and poisons? Is it Emily Brent or Judge Wargrave, working their way through some bizarre moral vendetta? Is it the beautiful Vera Claythorne, trusting that her looks and practiced wide-eyed innocence will help her avoid blame? Or is there someone else hiding on the island, picking them off one by one?

This is no spoiler: Everyone dies. And the police, when they finally discover the crime scene, are completely baffled. There is no detective who wraps things up. No shrewd old lady, no wise Belgian with magnificent moustaches. Someone has committed the perfect crime, and they get away with it.

This is my favorite of Dame Agatha's mysteries, and I think it's the best of her trio of rule-breaking mysteries, including "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" and "Murder on the Orient Express." The characters are distinctive and interesting, and the crimes are, like all good drawing-room mysteries, impossibly brilliant and devious. In many ways, it's the closest Christie ever wrote to a true horror novel -- the isolation of the setting, the ever-rising feel of paranoia and supernatural dread, and the seemingly unstoppable killer combine into something that feels almost like a 1980s slasher movie.

Christie wrote an adaptation of her novel for the stage in 1943. She gave it a less "down" ending by allowing two of the characters to survive. In addition, several films were made of the novel, including versions in 1945, 1965, 1974, and a variety of TV movies. None were considered very good, though the one from the '70s featured Richard Attenborough, Elke Sommer, Oliver Reed, Herbert Lom, and Orson Welles, who put in a cameo non-appearance as the voice on the recording.

Research from The New Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie (edited by Dick Riley and Pam McAllister), the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), and from basing my life around the novel. Care for a cup of bitter-almond-flavored tea, dearie?