Armstrong raised the limp hand. . . . He said—and his voice was expressionless, dead, far away: “He’s been shot . . . ”See Important Quotations Explained
The uneasy group sits in the drawing room. Armstrong seems particularly nervous; he lights cigarette after cigarette with shaky hands. The guests use candles, since Rogers is no longer around to operate the house’s generator. Vera offers to make tea, and the other four go with her to watch her make it. They tacitly agree that only one person will go anywhere at a time, while the other four stay together.
Later, Vera gets up to take a shower. She enters her room and suddenly feels as if she were again at the seashore where Cyril drowned. She smells the salt of the sea, and the wind blows out her candle. She feels something wet and clammy touch her throat, and screams. The men rush to the rescue and find that it was a piece of seaweed hanging from the ceiling that scared her. Lombard thinks it was meant to frighten her to death. Blore fetches a glass of alcohol, and they feud over whether he might have poisoned it. Suddenly, they notice that Wargrave is not with them. They hurry downstairs, and find him sitting in a chair, dressed in the red curtain that was missing and a gray judge’s wig made from some wool that Emily had lost. Armstrong inspects Wargrave and says that he has been shot in the head. Wargrave’s body is carried to his room. Again, everyone notices the similarity to the “Ten Little Indians” poem: “Five little Indian boys going in for law; one got in Chancery [dressed like a judge] and then there were four.”
The remaining four eat canned tongue for dinner and then go to bed. Everyone thinks he or she now knows the killer’s identity, although no one makes an accusation aloud. Entering his room, Lombard notes that his gun is back in its drawer. Vera lies awake, tormented by memories of Cyril’s drowning. She recalls telling him he could swim out to the rock, knowing that he would be unable to make it and would drown. She wonders if Hugo knows what she did. Vera notices a hook in the ceiling and realizes that the seaweed must have hung from it. For some reason, the black hook fascinates her.
Lying in bed, Blore tries to go over the facts of the case in his head, but his thoughts keep returning to his framing of Landor. He hears a noise outside. He listens at the door and hears it again. Slipping outside into the hall, he sees a figure going downstairs and out the front door. Blore checks the rooms and finds that Armstrong is not in his room. He wakes Lombard and Vera. The two men tell Vera to remain in her room, and they hurry outside to investigate. In her room, Vera thinks she hears the sound of breaking glass and then stealthy footsteps moving in the house. Blore and Lombard return without finding anyone: the island is empty, and Armstrong seems to have vanished. In the house they find a broken windowpane and only three Indian figurines in the dining room.
The death of Wargrave and the disappearance of Armstrong mark the novel’s climax. Although neither we nor the remaining characters realize it at this juncture, Wargrave is not dead; rather, he and Armstrong have conspired to fake his death. Armstrong does not suspect Wargrave, largely because of Wargrave’s place in society, and this trust reflects Armstrong’s fatal obsession with social status. He thinks that the trick of faking Wargrave’s death will confuse the murderer and flush him out into the open. Instead, it leads to Armstrong’s own death and fundamentally changes the murderer’s relationship to the rest of the group. Before these chapters, Wargrave is simply part of the group, one suspect among many. Now, his place on the island has changed, since everyone else (except for Armstrong, his co-conspirator) believes him to be dead. His deceit makes him more vulnerable, in a sense, since if anyone catches a glimpse of him moving around the island, his guilt will be obvious. At the same time, however, no one else is even aware that he is alive, which increases his freedom of action dramatically. He can do as he pleases, and, as long as he returns to his room undetected and pretends to be dead, no one will even suspect him.
Of course, our understanding of these climactic scenes is complicated by the fact that their crucial events are hidden from us. Christie leaves us in the same situation as the remaining guests—Blore, Vera, and Lombard—which dramatically increases the suspense of the narrative. From this point onward, the murders seem to defy rational explanation. For instance, Armstrong vanishes from the island while everyone else is asleep. The deeds of the murderer thus take on an almost supernatural quality, one that is heightened by their continued correspondence to the “Ten Little Indians” poem. One of the obvious themes of Christie’s novel is the working out of justice, since all the murder victims are being punished for earlier crimes. As the novel nears its end, this justice seems to be delivered not by any human agent, but by some supernatural power, as if a vengeful God is doling out punishment.
Christie’s decision to leave us in the dark about Wargrave’s faked death also marks the moment when she irrevocably violates the rules of the detective-fiction genre. Typically, a detective story offers a set of clues that readers can use to solve the case for themselves. By withholding the crucial information about Wargrave’s seeming death, however, Christie makes the case practically impossible to solve.