Reopening the Case of "And Then There Were None"

 

This classic mystery by Agatha Christie is the bestselling crime novel of all time and is famous for having one of the most inventive solutions in the entire genre. Too bad it’s wrong.

 

A small, isolated island off the English coast. Ten people, invited by the mysterious Mr. Ulick Norman Owen, arrive. All share a common trait: they committed a crime for which they were not convicted. The police arrive several days later and discover ten bodies, each murdered in a way reminiscent of the old nursery rhyme. No one was able to arrive on or depart from the island during this time.

 

Scotland Yard later receives a message, placed in a bottle, which (quite opportunely) was found by a local fishing boat. The letter contained therein describes how the murderer did it.

 

Except, as Professor Pierre Bayard explains, it couldn’t have happened quite like that...

 

 

After watching the video, you know that the letter presented in the postscript is wrong and that the murderer that Agatha Christie named is, in all likelihood, innocent.

 

So... what really happened?

 

One investigator, Cédric Bachellerie, already attempted to discover the truth several years ago:

In 1940, at a time she was enjoying great success, Agatha Christie published a ludic and original crime novel that mystified even the most imaginative readers. [. . .] After 180 dark and disturbing pages in which the action is described like a nightmare by an omniscient narrator who explores even the most intimate thoughts of the characters, the reader readily welcomes the subjective viewpoint of the final pages as a peaceful return to reality. Readers also quickly confound Judge Wargrave’s signed testimony with the objective reality of what transpired on Soldier Island. [. . .] Yet the resolute literary investigator, unbound by any moral or metaphysical considerations, has a duty to correct fallacious appearances. Judge Wargrave is not the murderer, and his letter is a fake. Download the article, which appeared in Belphegor in 2013.

 

After viewing Pierre Bayard’s presentation from our annual meeting at Le Mans-University, Cédric Bachellerie polished his torpedoes and shot out this rightful rejoinder ; and then, during our second workshop, shed light on the murderer's  hidden mobiles - very different indeed from the one we find in detective stories :

Obviously, I feel I must keep tabs on your enterprise, especially since Pierre Bayard is of a mind to publish a book entitled La Vérité sur “Les dix petits nègres” [The Truth About And Then There Were None]. I am a huge fan of Professor Bayard and greatly admire the seriousness of his academic work. That’s why I fear his reputation may be the next victim on Soldier Island. Either the promise of his next book’s title is upheld— in which case my own inquest inevitably will have been plagiarized—, or the idea is original— in which case it would no longer be the truth and the title would be deceitful. Furthermore, that InterCriPol would hide the tree of truth in a forest of “alternative facts” is completely unexpected from serious academic researchers... You’re not Donald Trump, for heaven’s sake! Truth is truth!  Continue reading...

 

However, with all due respect to our “anticipatory” agent, the investigation continues. Following Karl Popper’s principle of falsifiability, this occurs whenever new elements are subjected to collective wisdom, whenever other hypotheses are conceivable.

Dr Clara Sitbon, co-director of our Australian branch, suggest that we expand the scope of our investigation to the film adaptations of Christie's novel. On our second workshop, she herself combed the recent BBC series, released in 2015, and reported it to us. Watch the video. 

 

InterCriPol has thus tasked our best agents with the case. Here are their conclusions (most of them in French for the moment, sorry for that...) :

 

  • Dr. Uri Eisenzweig, Honorary Member of InterCriPol, forced the guilty party out into the open by following the trail of racist prejudices found throughout the text, reminding us how central they were to the structure of detective novels of the period:

I watched and listened with great attention to Pierre Bayard’s May 2018 presentation from Le Mans-University on And Then There Were None, based on his book forthcoming in January. I must immediately respond so that the simple truth of the matter doesn’t become mired in a hollow debate and, who knows, so that my esteemed colleague might have the opportunity to withdraw his book before it is released, therefore avoiding an embarrassing situation. We must not ignore the oft beneficial effects of “anticipatory” criticism. Continue reading...

 

  • Dr. Caroline Julliot, Chief Investigator for our organization, on vacation in the area this past summer, found, off Soldier Island, a bottle with a message containing new information:

It is incontestable that my imagination must be irremediably novelistic to have taken pen to paper to record my true story, and then to have thrown it out to sea years after my improbable fake confession, supposedly written by old Wargrave, was delivered to Scotland Yard. Everyone is familiar with this confession, and, despite its undeniable implausibility, it continues to delight fans of detective novels. Continue reading...

 

  • Dr. Maxime Decout, our Permanent Secretary, while unveiling the criminal also reveals the secret mechanisms of the composition of the novel and how these renewed Modernity’s interest in the writing of detective fiction:

I regret to inform you that right here, right now, I am going to ruin any and all suspense and reveal the murder’s identity. I lament it all the more because it was at the behest of Pierre Bayard that I reopened this closed case. But rules are rules. There’s no turning back now. I shall divulge the malicious machinations that Pierre Bayard himself surely did not miss.  Continue reading...

 

  • Alistair Rolls, Director of our Australian Branch, suggests we reread the entire text as the troubled (and therefore rather incoherent) dream of Judge Wargrave.

 I am conscious as I embark on this attempt to shed new light on Agatha Christie’s classic variant on the locked-room mystery of letting the side down, of failing in the mission entrusted to me by my colleagues at InterCriPol by not quite getting the job done. The challenge set is to restore the balance of justice by finding the truth, by which is meant in this case the “real identity” of the killer. Continue Reading...

 

  • François Thirion, eminent member of our German squad, draws similar conclusions to Alistair Rolls' ; except that he based his investigation on scientific knowledge ( medecine, neurology...) and wondered if And then they were none  couldn't be considered, after all, as a fantasy novel :

As I chose as an investigation method to rely on an analysis of cognitive bias and relationship to reality, I have to begin with this first statement : There is only one and only death to mourn in Christie's novel. Let me make three points to demonstrate what I mean : The real, the Supernatural, and the medical. Continue reading...  

 

  • Building on the conclusions from our various agents’ investigations, Jessy Neau, Co-Director of InterCriPol Canada, demonstrates that a detour through the society of spectacle may not be completely unnecessary in order to understand what happened on Soldier Island:

The solution that I submit is based on several observations made by my colleagues— demonstrating the strongly collective nature of InterCriPol— as well as certain directions indicated by their investigations even though the conclusions they reach are completely different. [. . .] My solution, however, involves a completely different interpretive direction.  Continue reading...

 

  • Sarah Delale examines the novel with a medievalist approach, and concludes that it must have been written by several writers - as it was often the case in the Middle ages. Thanks to her thorough philological study, she can now restore the successive states of the manucript, and flush out the murderer - being, in fact, two murderers :

As an expert in Middle Ages from my profession, but, in the XXth Century, only from birth, I first would like to share a personal feeling about the novel. (...) It gave me an impression of heterogeneity - especially the double epilogue : the Judge's final letter being very lyrical, whereas the rest of the text is written in a very dry style (...) Add to that stylistic differences a great variety of narrative rythms, tones and characterizations. Continue reading...

 

Finally, since for souls nobly born valor doesn’t await the passing of years...

 

  • Our young and energetic investigator, Elsa Nedelec, strongly and convincingly incites us to read the novel not as a mystery but as an allegory, as a moral fable that impels the reader to examine her own relationship (accessory? perpetrator?) with punishment.

Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel was a master stroke. While she did not know it, her novel, And Then There Were None, would become the most famous crime novel ever. But what makes this so truly fascinating and admirable is not the novel’s incredible fame. No, the real feat is that this masterpiece of the mystery genre is in fact a story with neither detective... or murderer. Continue reading...

 

  • J. Elise Pryor, Alistair Rolls' student, examinates the screen-writing differences in Ten Little Roosters, a 2014 copycat web-serie, in order to re-open the investigation and propose another murderer : 

 (...) After investigating the Rooster Teeth copycat one factor wedges itself firmly in mind necessitating a re-examination into the original case. The killer was killed and then there was one. Perhaps much like Barbara’s RT killings the original design for the Soldier Island murders went astray resulting in a smokescreen solution disguising the true villain. What if Justice Wargrave like Ryan is simply a suitable scapegoat framed by the mastermind for the murders? The killer was killed but was the killer the killer ? Continue reading...

 

 

What about you? Do you think you know the final chapter of this sad story?

 

Let us know the clues you’ve unveiled or your hypothesis in a comment. Or suggest your own solution ! To do so, please use our Deposit form

 

Our “Save Justice Wargrave” Contest is officially open!

 

The most convincing hypothesis will win a dedication copy of Pierre Bayard’s new book and will be offered the highly-coveted position of Honorary Member of our organization.

 

All submissions must be received by January 2019.

By Alexander Hertich (translation)

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