Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is one of the world’s best-selling mystery novels, although it defies many tropes of the mystery genre. Christie includes, for example, no Poirot-like detective to solve the mystery and unmask the killer. Nor are the victims innocent of a crime. In Christie’s novel, the victims are deemed guilty and receive justice, albeit through the actions of a murderer. No one, as the novel’s major conflict reveals, is innocent. Ten strangers die because a murderer judges them guilty of past crimes. Christie thus offers a unique take on both guilt and justice, revealing that guilt can manifest and be perceived in many ways.

The novel opens with shifting perspectives that reveal the characters’ inner thoughts. By using this atypical narrative style, Christie allows readers to gain direct insight into all the characters without using the filter of an omniscient narrator. The inner ruminations of the characters help create an air of intrigue, as it becomes clear that each has something to hide. Each character recalls incidents from the past, generally in vague terms, without expressing much guilt for what they have done. In the novel’s inciting incident, the nature of their unacknowledged guilt is revealed: a disembodied voice accuses each of the ten strangers on the island of murder, providing details of their purported crimes. This explicit declaration of guilt by an unknown figure sets the events of the novel into motion, revealing how each character perceives his or her guilt and how this perception ultimately determines their fate.

Through the novel’s rising action, the people on the island are murdered one after another in ways that mirror the “Ten Little Indians” rhyme, which becomes a recurring motif. When asked to offer a defense against the accusations, each character responds differently, showing the level of guilt they feel. Marston, who dies first, does not express much remorse, instead insisting that what happened was simply an accident. Vera, Armstrong, Blore, Rogers, and Macarthur all deny the accusations made against them, while Emily Brent refuses to speak about the accusations entirely. Only Lombard accepts the truth of the accusation, yet he expresses no feelings of guilt. He believes that his actions were justified and asserts that his own life is worth more than the lives of the native people he abandoned to die. These varied perceptions of guilt, from denial to self-justification, ultimately determine each character’s fate and establish the sequence in which they will die.

As the plot unfolds, Christie’s periodic use of shifting perspectives helps reveal the characters’ true feelings, including their awareness of both degrees of guilt and sense of justice. Wargrave admits no guilt for the Edward Seton incident. Macarthur, despite lying earlier, feels guilty as accused, and he feels a sense of peace at the admission, longing to remain on the island. He seems to welcome death because he views his own murder as an extension of justice, a means with which to assuage guilt and atone for what he has done. Vera, in contrast, personally denies the accusations made against her, while her emotional responses reveal the truth. As she becomes aware that the sequential murders resemble the lines of the rhyme, she becomes increasingly disturbed, approaching hysteria. She hallucinates sounds and smells from her past, and she finally admits to herself that she consciously sent Cyril to his death.

A frenzy of activity occurs following the novel’s climax, when Vera finally shoots Lombard. Even though she recognizes her own guilt in the heinous crime of causing an innocent child’s death, Vera expresses initial relief and a sense of vindication when she becomes the sole survivor on the island. Her guilt, however, has been chipping away at her psyche and finally overcomes her, leading her to take her own life when she discovers the noose over her bed.

Following the events of the climax, the novel’s falling action once again subverts a significant trope of the mystery genre. Readers have clues as to why the murders have taken place, but they remain in the dark as to who committed them and what the real motivations might be. The police remain baffled by events and have no explanations to offer. It is only in the events of the resolution that these final mysteries are solved, when it becomes clear that perceptions and manifestations of guilt, coupled with a sense of justice, have played a part in sealing each character’s fate.

Wargrave, when his manuscript is discovered, is finally revealed to be the murderer, and he has not absolved himself from blame. He does not hold himself guilty of any crime in the Seton incident, but, in keeping with his judgment of the others, he holds himself guilty of their deaths, taking his own life. His assessment of the others’ guilt has directed the order and manner in which he takes each life, according to his own sense of justice. The characters he deems as having the least degree of guilt have died first, while the more serious offenders have been put through a longer ordeal. Lombard and Vera, whose deaths did not occur directly at Wargraves’ hands, die last because Lombard has accepted accountability for his actions but felt no guilt, and Vera is guilty of the worst crime in Wargraves’ eyes, ultimately acting as her own executioner.