And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
published 1939 Chapter 13
Mr Justice Wargrave was sitting in his high-backed chair at the end of the room. Two candles burnt on either side of him. But what shocked and startled the onlookers was the fact that he sat there robed in scarlet with a judge’s wig upon his head. Dr Armstrong motioned to the others to keep back. He himself walked across to the silent staring figure, reeling a little as he walked like a drunken man. He bent forward, peering into the still face. Then, with a swift movement he raised the wig. It fell to the floor revealing the high bald forehead with, in the very middle, a round stained mark from which something had trickled. ..
Suddenly Philip Lombard laughed – a high unnatural laugh….’That’s the end of Mr Bloody Justice Wargrave. No more pronouncing sentence for him! No more putting on the black cap! Here’s the last time he’ll ever sit in court! No more summing up and sending innocent men to death…’
This is Agatha Christie’s best-selling crime novel, which is saying something, and is the best-selling mystery story of all time. It also has one of the most problematic titles of all time. She originally called it after a children’s rhyme using the n-word. Her American publishers changed the name immediately to Ten Little Indians, but it continued to be published under the original name in the UK until – unbelievably – 1985. Now it is usually known as And then there were none.
It is one of her cleverest and most elaborate plots, and it is hard to imagine anyone guessed the ending on first reading. Ten people are marooned on a tiny island off the south coast of England, and one by one they are killed. So when there’s only two people left…..? (It sounds rather like The Hunger Games.) Almost the last words of the book are: ‘When the sea goes down, there will come from the mainland boats and men. And they will find ten dead bodies and an unsolved problem.’ Although no-one makes huge claims for Christie’s writing style, this one is very atmospheric, and decidedly creepy.
The island in the book (which also has to have its name changed) is based on Burgh Island, a popular holiday spot in the 1930s, and still a great place to visit. It featured, very recognizably, also in Christie’s Evil under the Sun. There is a very modernist 1930s hotel on the island, which has appeared in many UK TV dramas.
No more putting on the black cap – until capital punishment was abolished in the UK, a judge sentencing someone to death put a square of black silk over his wig to indicate the seriousness of the moment.
The picture is by the American artist John Singleton Copley, Portrait of Judge Martin Howard, is used with permission, and can be found on this fascinating site of his Complete Works.