And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (Shane's book 14, 2008)

Since I seem to be taking an improvised journey through detective fiction this year I thought it would be worth including an Agatha Christie. She is, after all, the 'queen of crime fiction' and I haven't read any of her books since I was a kid. It turns out her books are best left in one's childhood. Though her plotting is phenomenal, it's pretty much outweighed by her banal writing.

And Then There Were None, originally published under a title too offensive for enlightened audiences, takes ten people, each with a dark secret, and maroons them on an island off the coast of Devon. One-by-one they are killed off. They are alone on the island, so the killer must be one of them.

It's not particularly plausible but it's too Christie's credit that, if you can suspend your disbelief for the initial premise, all that follows is perfectly reasonable. The end of the book is more like a magic trick than the close of a novel and yet there is a genuine air of tension. When Christie reveals, in an epilogue, how the trick was done, it's impossible not to admire her skill.

If only her writing was as good. The ten characters could be cardboard cutouts were they not expected to bleed. Christie gives them entirely implausible internal monologues that serve as clumsy vehicles for exposition without adding any complexity of character.

Each is defined by what they do, or did, for a living. There's a doctor, a retired soldier, a policeman and so on. Even their behaviour is influenced by what they do, so when the judge is annoyed by the group he appears to 'wish he could clear the courtroom' and when the games mistress is being organised she acts as if she's 'organising girls into tennis sets'.

It's as if Christie is solely concerned with plot, while and the characters inhabiting it are entirely an afterthought, which is probably the case. It makes for an unsatisfying read.