A recently retired judge, Wargrave is intelligent, cold, and commanding. During his years on the bench, he had a reputation as a “hanging judge”—a judge who persuaded juries to bring back guilty verdicts and sentenced many convicted criminals to death. Christie describes Wargrave as wizened and ugly, with a “frog-like face[,] . . . tortoise-like neck,” and “pale shrewd little eyes”; his ugliness makes his appearance more forbidding. Once the situation on Indian Island becomes clear and the guests realize that a murderer is hunting them, they look to Wargrave for leadership, and he obliges. He is the first to insist publicly that they are dealing with a homicidal maniac, and the first to acknowledge that the killer must be part of their group. When leading group meetings on the island, he often acts like a judge presiding over a court. Wargrave analyzes evidence, authorizes searches both of the island and of people’s possessions, and takes charge of drugs and other potential weapons, ensuring that they are safely locked away.
It is partially Wargrave’s experience with criminal proceedings that makes the others go along with his leadership, but he also has a confidence-inspiring ability to project an air of cold reason in a time of crisis. In a standard detective story, Wargrave’s behavior would make him the detective figure, using his experience with the criminal mind to unmask the killer. But as we learn at the close of the novel, when a local fisherman recovers his confession, Wargrave himself is the killer. He plans the entire enterprise, selects his ten victims, buys the island, and then pretends to be one of the group. Despite his identity as murderer, however, Wargrave is not entirely unlike the detective in a traditional mystery story. Since all of his victims are supposedly guilty of murder, Wargrave, like the detective, acts as an agent of justice, making sure that murderers are punished for their crimes. Nevertheless, in spite of his victims’ obvious guilt and Wargrave’s insistence that he would not let an innocent person suffer, we are unlikely to find him a sympathetic character. Far from being a disinterested agent of justice, Wargrave is a sadist, taking perverse pleasure in murder. As a boy, he killed insects for sport, and he brings the same zeal to his task on Indian Island. He never shows pity for his victims; instead, he regards them as pawns to move around and kill in order to create what he terms a “work of art”—his perfect killing spree.