All I could think about while reading this book was the Amy Cooper of the world. Those “nice” liberal folks, who are willing to destroy (and potentially kill) another human, for something as slight as getting asked to leash their dog in a place that requires it.
I kept thinking about the banality of it all.
The story, in case you are not familiar with the plot and the numerous adaptation of it, centers around ten individuals who are invited by the mysterious Mr. Ulick Norman Owen and his wife Mrs. Una Nancy Owen to stay at an isolated island. During their short stay at the island, they are murdered one by one in retaliation for murders they have all committed in the past.
The murders are what makes the book seem relevant to me, all of the folks on the island have committed murders by proxy and cannot be accused of murder in a regular court of law. In most cases, there wasn’t even a direct intention to murder, rather it was their own flaws as humans that lead to the death of other people. This means that they do not consider themselves killers, rather they are good people who did not act differently than other people would have.
If we are in a similar situation, would we have acted the same?
I have no doubt that Amy Cooper felt that she was a good person, but she still was capable of intentionality causing a murder over the slightest of arguments. I am sure she would balk at police brutality, but she still had no problem utilizing it for her own means when needed. She is not a monster, she is just a human that is blind to her own shortcoming and prejudice. So are the characters in the book.
This isn’t to say that the book did not age or that it sometimes feels anachronistic, but what works in it (and in any good mystery novel) is the fact that it is not just about the mystery of who is the killer but it is a book about the human condition. It’s a book about the banality of evil.
Some random notes:
- The weakest part for me was the actual poem, as it revealed some issues with the overall plan of the killer- there was a lot of luck involved with having the deaths follow a very specific pattern if one character would have acted unpredictably the plan would have been bust
- The book is very short, but Christie does a good job of establishing the characters in a way in which we have a sense of who they are and what is their reaction to the situation they are at.
- The one exception is probably Vera, but that what makes the book works so well. Vera is an actual monster, but the books position her at the start as one of the only moral characters which make her spiral of guilt a lot more interesting.
- I am not going to get into the racial issues around the book title, I have read quite a few interpretations both against and for the changing of the title (the second one, no one has issues with changing the original title) and it is an interesting argument (this is a good video about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUaWtX1euPQ)
- It is a shame that none of the film/tv versions of the book really follow the premise of it. That is to say, the 2015 mini-series did keep the original ending but made everything darker than it is in the book (which I felt takes away from the actual message).
- There is some casual anti-semitism thrown around, and Christie doesn’t really examine the systems which allow those people to not be accused of murder (especially in the doctor’s case).