And Then There Were None

by Agatha Christie
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How does Agatha Christie build suspense in And Then There Were None?

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Christie builds suspense, first, in the mysterious way each of the guests is summoned to the island, none of them knowing the host. Following that, the mysterious record plays, accusing them all of having, in various ways, gotten away with murder. Then, almost immediately, Marston, one of the guests, dies....

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Christie builds suspense, first, in the mysterious way each of the guests is summoned to the island, none of them knowing the host. Following that, the mysterious record plays, accusing them all of having, in various ways, gotten away with murder. Then, almost immediately, Marston, one of the guests, dies. His drink has been poisoned. The next morning Mrs. Rogers is found dead, and not long after that General MacArthur dies from a blow to the head.

The mysterious host and the three murders in quick succession build a sense of suspense or anticipation. Unlike in other murder mysteries, it now becomes clear that all (or all but one of) the guests are destined to be killed in retribution for their crimes. This being the case, one wonders from moment to moment who will be murdered next and how. Meanwhile, high waves mean no one can escape the island, and phone lines being cut means no one has a chance of calling for help. The tension escalates.

Readers can imagine themselves in the place of the guests on the island, not knowing which moment might be their last or when they might next find a body. That sense of knowing something will happen but not when or how builds the suspense.

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Suspense is the intense feeling that readers or audience members experience as they wait to find out what is going to happen in a story or play. In Agatha Christie's play And Then There Were None, and in the novel, she builds suspense by creating a closed setting where one of the characters must be the murderer, by using the rhyme and the Indian boys to predict and mark each death, by killing off characters one by one, and by varying the methods of the murders.

Suspense begins when the gramophone record accuses each person on the island of having murdered someone, and then someone dies unexpectedly that very night. In the morning, the guests realize they are stuck on the island, and then another death is discovered. By the time the third person has died and the Indian boys keep disappearing, it becomes clear that each person is a target but that each person could also be the killer. This creates a great deal of suspense as the people on the island (and the audience) try to evaluate and predict what might happen next. When the survivors realize that the type of death each person has suffered correlates to the poem displayed on the wall, they realize they are dealing with a diabolical lunatic. The method of killing is always suggested by the poem but never close enough to be able to be predicted, which keeps readers/viewers off-balance and involved. As Lombard and Claythorne are the last ones alive as the end nears, readers or audience members become even more drawn into the suspense because those are the two most likable characters. When the red herring is revealed at the end and the crazy Judge is revealed as the murderer, readers and viewers are still on the edge of their seats wondering if he will succeed and whether he will allow himself to live.

The play and the book end differently, so the suspense can continue. Those who have not seen the play or movie can watch it, and those who have not read the book can read it.

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