And Then There Were None was first published in 1939 in Great Britain and was published a few months later in the United States in January of 1940. It is Agatha Christie's bestselling novel. Over 100 million copies have been printed and it remains one of the top ten best selling books of all time. It has been made into several films and a play. The novel follows the plights of ten characters as a Mr. U.N. Owen summons them to the mysterious Indian Island. As each guest begins to die in suspect ways, each guest realizes that they have been summoned to the island by a mad man intent on killing them all.
A gramophone recording reveals that each of the characters in the novel was party to some other kind of murder. Each was either acquitted of the crime or never charged, and each denies culpability. However, through scenes of internal dialogue and character interaction, the reader discovers that each guest has some lingering doubts about their level of guilt. The reader, therefore, comes to suspect that no one on the island is as innocent as he claims to be.
Christie wrote many of her most famous novels, including And Then There Were None in the first half of the twentieth century. She served as a nurse in both World Wars. One explanation for the success of her novels is that the murder mystery and detective fiction genre is principally a genre that seeks to instill sanctity to life through an exploration of the horrors of death, and to create a right moral order within a fictionalized world. This fictionalized moral order replaces the depraved moral order of reality. According to some critics, Christie's audience in the years following the World Wars craved a world of moral order and justice. Christie's fiction offered this moral vision. In addition, of course, her fiction also offered ingenious plot twists and a keen eye for the details of crime that left readers guessing and full of suspense until the final pages.
All of Christie's novels, including And Then There Were None, are written with a genre loosely called detective fiction. In this genre of writing, a crime or serious of crimes are committed. Clues to the identity of the criminal are interlaced through the story, though the actual identity is often impossible for the reader to discover until the very end. The endings of detective fiction novels offer the criminals identity, method, and motivations for committing the crime. The ending is almost always reveals a logical series of events and small pieces of evidence that the reader then sees in the text's narrative. One of the first, and most enduring, series of detective fiction was Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series. And Then There Were None fits into the same category as Doyle's detective fiction, yet it alters the formula in that the novel gives no clear protagonist. Instead, each character is free from the accusation and guilt of murder.
Christie's book was originally titled Ten Little Niggers and was published under that title in Great Britain. The American printing was renamed Ten Little Indians because of issues of racial sensitivity surrounding the original title. Modern printings have replaced "Indian" with "Soldier," as well as ultimately renaming the novel to “And Then There Were None.” Some have criticized the racial references in the book as indicative of Christie's overt racism towards minorities and Jews both in her writing and in her private life. Such insensitivity has not tarnished Christie's sales, however. Only the Bible has sold more copies than Christie's novels.