Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

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The Library Book – Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean made international headlines, and won herself a legion of new fans, earlier this year when she posted a series of unabashedly drunken tweets lamenting the state of the world. She’s well deserving of the recognition, of course, but there are plenty of us who were well enamored with her long before she had one too many wines at her neighbour’s house. I’ve been crazy about her ever since I picked up The Library Book earlier this year, her account of the 1986 Los Angeles Central Library Fire.

Never heard of it? Neither had Orlean, until she moved to Los Angeles and took a tour of the Central Library building. Her tour guide pulled a book from a shelf and smelled it (slightly odd, but not beyond the pale for book lovers). Then he said he could “still smell the smoke”, and that’s what piqued Orlean’s interest. She thought, at first, that he meant the remnants of a time when patrons were allowed to smoke cigarettes in libraries. But, no: he was talking about the suspected act of arson that set light to the library on the morning of 29 April 1986, the fire that burned for several hours, the same one that destroyed over 400,000 books and damaged several hundred thousand more. No one was killed, but fifty firefighters were injured.

‘Hang on,’ Orlean thought (as I’m sure you are right now), ‘if the fire was that big, why hasn’t anyone heard about it?’. Check the date: it was drowned out of the news almost immediately by the Chernobyl disaster. And thus, the biggest library fire in the history of the United States was all but forgotten – and the suspected crime remains unsolved.





That’s not to say there were no suspects. Orlean begins The Library Book with a profile of Harry Peak, the man who led police on a wild goose chase throughout their investigation. He is described as being “very blonde” by his lawyer, and “the biggest bullshitter in the world” by his sister – make of that what you will. Orlean reads reports, transcripts, interviews friends and relatives, to find out everything she can about Harry Peak… but even then (spoiler alert), she can’t definitively answer – nor can anyone else – the question of why, or even whether, he would set fire to the Los Angeles Central Library.

The Library Book is, at its bones, a true crime story, interrogating who could have possibly started such a fire, and why. That said, it’s a long way from the feigned objectivity or omniscience of a book like The Arsonist. Orlean’s writing is memoir-esque, interweaving her own recollections of childhood library visits, and also incorporating extensive local history, including the socioeconomic and political complexities of the city of angels.

Now, I’m going to put a very important warning right here: do not read The Library Book if your friends and family will not take kindly to being bombarded with “fun facts” for at least a month. I made a grave error in choosing this book to accompany me when I was a passenger on a road trip. By the time we reached our destination, my fellow travellers were ready to set me on fire. Every few minutes, I’d say “Oh, wow! Did you know…” They were interested, at first, but after a while it wore thin, and soon my gasps of fascination were met with exhausted groans. So, there you go. You’ve been warned.





Orlean leaves no stone unturned, which is what makes The Library Book such a trove of delight and wonder for book-lovers and library patrons. She turns up everything from the history of libraries, the growth of Hollywood, the bust of the Depression, the psychology of arsonists, the physics of book burning (she even burned a copy of Fahrenheit 451 herself, for research!), the lives of the librarians who worked in the building (right down to their preferred brands of cigarettes)… she spent six and a half years researching this book, and it shows. And yet, she doesn’t simply dump it all in your lap; she delivers it, seamlessly, in a page-turning book that offers a kaleidoscopic view of a library and the terrible crime that occurred there (probably).

I’m sure you’ve deduced as much by now, but I’ll say it for the record: The Library Book is a highly Recommended read here on Keeping Up With The Penguins. It’s a must for any library-goer or book-worm. And, in a year when libraries have been beaten and bruised by pandemic restrictions coupled with the increased demand of the disadvantaged communities they serve, there is surely no better time to read a love letter the public library system.

Do you use your local library? Either way, you might want to check this out.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Library Book:

  • “lots of facts about libraries” – kcp
  • “Dreadful book – throw out” – Polly
  • “This book is tedious, overwritten and disjointed. Just like the IMPOSSIBLE BURGER is impossible to eat, this book is impossible to read.” – ruth evans

7 Fiction Books About Siblings

As an only child, pretty much everything I know about sharing a life with brothers or sisters has been drawn from fiction books about siblings. It started with Famous Five books when I was a kid, and it continues on to this day. I prefer fiction books about siblings that show the good, the bad, and the ugly – sharing parents ain’t all beer and skittles, I know that much. Here’s a list of books that I reckon fit the bill…

7 Fiction Books About Siblings - Keeping Up With The Penguins

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I never miss a chance to plug We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I’ve made it my life’s mission to get more people to read this book. Luckily, today I don’t even have to do any convoluted backwards engineering to make it fit the theme of this list! Unfortunately, though, it’s a little tricky for me to explain exactly why it makes the cut, as there’s a HUGE sibling-related spoiler about 70 pages in… Suffice to say, this book will change the way you think about sibling relationships, and the nature of personhood, altogether. Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister The Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite - Keeping Up With The Penguins

How far would you go to save your sibling? That’s the question at the heart of My Sister, The Serial Killer. Even though the premise is a bit preposterous – a woman compelled to help her sister hide the bodies after she dispatches unsuitable boyfriends – there’s an emotional core to this book that will resonate with everyone who’s ever been called upon to sacrifice. At the end of the day, sibling or otherwise, we all have someone we’d call to help us drag a body across the floor… don’t we? Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride And Prejudice - Jane Austen - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

There are few writers as iconic as Jane Austen, and few families as iconic as the Bennets, as immortalised in her beloved novel Pride And Prejudice. Even though everyone (it seems) comes for the marriage plot, the relationships between the five sisters are really the heart of this story. It’s Lizzie’s advice that leads Jane to play coy with Bingley, after all, which in turn leads to his doubting her affection. It’s Lydia’s scandal that gives Darcy the opportunity to ride in on his white horse, and shows Wickham for the scoundrel that he is. Face it: P&P just wouldn’t work without the complex relationships that evolve between five daughters under one roof, and the men who try to woo them. Read my full review of Pride And Prejudice here.


The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Vanishing Half made one heck of a splash when it was first published earlier this year, and we’re still feeling the ripples today. It’s a brilliant premise: twin sisters, identical, brought up in a Southern black community, who go on to lead very different lives. One passes as white, keeping her heritage a secret from even her (white) husband, while the other claims her black identity, for better and for worse. This is an intriguing way to examine race and racial justice, but like other contemporary fiction books on this subject (An American Marriage comes to mind), it does so without coming across as a thinly veiled argument – it’s a truly emotive, complex story.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Few fiction books about siblings have had the enduring cross-generational appeal of Little Women. I think it’s because just about every woman can identify strongly with at least one of the sisters. Are you Meg, the responsible one? Jo, the head-strong creative? Beth, the kind and gentle? Or Amy, the beautiful and determined? C’mon, if you’ve read this classic, you know which one you are (I’m a Jo, through-and-through). By crafting multiple characters so engaging and relatable, Alcott conquered new ground in the All American Girl trope and won our minds; making them sisters was how she won our hearts. Read my full review of Little Women here.


The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Is there anything more intoxicating than enigmatic, beautiful, unattainable sisters? Not for the boys who worshipped them in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, and tell their story in chorus. The Lisbon girls are raised in sweet ’70s suburbia, and are shielded from the world by their Catholic parents. Mr and Mrs Lisbon soon discover that no parental love, protection, or permissiveness can save their daughters from themselves. One by one, their daughters are lost to them, and even decades later no one can be entirely sure why. This is one of the darker fiction books about siblings, but one that is seared into the memory of everyone who reads it.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If your sibling asked you to donate a kidney, you would, wouldn’t you? Well, what if you knew you were born specifically for that purpose? The quandaries of family obligation, and the ethics of “designer babies” or “saviour siblings”, are explored in the perennially popular My Sister’s Keeper. Thirteen-year-old Anna Fitzgerald sues her parents for medical emancipation, citing her right to refuse to undergo dangerous and invasive surgery against her will. But her elder sister, Kate, has acute promyelocytic leukemia, and will likely die if Anna succeeds. Are we our sisters’ keepers? This question continues to divide readers, even now!


Flowers In The Attic – VC Andrews

I’m a sucker for a content warning. If the news anchor says “the following content may be distressing to some viewers”, you’d better believe my eyes will be glued to the screen. When the ladies of the My Favorite Murder podcast warned their listeners about the twisted, sickening premise of Flowers In The Attic, I knew I had to give it a go. After all, they’d read it as teenagers, how bad could it really be? Keeper Upperers, consider my lesson learned…

Flowers In The Attic is a (relatively) contemporary (supposedly) gothic novel, first published in 1979. It’s the first book in the Dollanganger Series, so named for the family at the center of the story. It all starts in 1957, with a beautiful family of six (mother, father, and four adoring children) living a comfortable suburban life in Pennsylvania. Naturally, tragedy must strike. The father is killed in a car accident on the evening of his thirty-sixth birthday. Given that he was the family’s breadwinner, and his wife had no marketable skills, the remaining Dollangangers are forced to flee their newly-repossessed house and throw themselves at the mercy of their estranged (but very wealthy) maternal family.

All of this is narrated by Cathy Dollanganger, the second child and eldest daughter. Her perspective reminded me a bit of Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird: a grown woman telling a story from her younger perspective… but that’s about all these two books have in common. Harper Lee’s classic American tale of racial injustice and coming-of-age was confronting in a way, but Flowers In The Attic is grim and sickening on a whole other level.

See, the mother feeds Cathy and her siblings (older brother Christopher, and younger twins Carrie and Cory – all Cs, yes, very clever) some cock-and-bull story about how their grandfather is evil. She says the kids will have to hide out in a far-flung wing of the family mansion until she convinces the old coot that kids aren’t so bad to have around, then he’ll welcome them with open arms and give them all his money. Sounds hinky, right?





When the family arrives, they are given a very cold shoulder by their grandmother – by which I mean she hands them a printed list of heinous “rules” they must follow in order to keep their existence a complete secret from everyone else in the house (even the help! imagine!), under the very serious threat of physical violence. Oh, and there’s a lot of God-talk too: no being naked in front of each other because it’s sinful, no thinking about what anyone looks like naked because it’s sinful, no looking at yourself naked because it’s sinful… you get the drift.

The mother is exempt from all of this, for the most part. She cops a flogging, but at least she gets to move around the house and the servants know she’s there. She tries to reassure the kids that they’ll only be locked up for a few days, but those days turn into weeks, and then the weeks into months. On one of the daily food drops, the grandmother reveals to Cathy and Christopher that they are all, in fact, the product of an incestuous union between their mother and her half-uncle. Heaven forbid! That’s why the kids have to be kept secret, it would seem. If the grandfather knew that his daughter’s marriage to his half-brother had produced progeny, he’d… well, it’s not clear what he’d do exactly, but it would be bad.

Are you following this? It’s a bit convoluted, I’ll grant you. So, here’s a little mid-point tl;dr summary for you: Mummy married her Uncle, and now the kids are locked in the attic so the rich Grandpa won’t write them all out of his will. Ick. Now, I’m not going to tease you with content warnings or thinly-veiled references to more icky stuff (that’s the carrot that lured me to Flowers In The Attic in the first place). Consider everything from here on out extremely spoiler-y (and gross). Proceed at your own peril.





Things really start to drag in the middle. I mean, there’s only so much of kids whinging that they want to go outside a reader can take. Plus, the holes in the logic of the story become less “mysterious” and more mystifying. I tried to assume that it was all part of a masterful plot, that Andrews was being clever and leading me down rabbit holes, but 200 pages in I had to concede. The fact that they all just seemed to forget entirely about those extensive rules by the second act was what killed Flowers In The Attic for me. On day one, it was all “not a PEEP out of you until AFTER 10am or YOU’LL ALL BE WHIPPED!”, and (it felt like) the next minute the kids are all screaming their little lungs out by breakfast and no one gives a shit.

So, let me skip ahead. It turns out the reason that the evil grandmother was so hard on them with all this God business was that she was worried history was going to repeat itself… which, of course, it does. It comes on gradually, with Cathy suddenly noticing her changing body, and catching her older brother staring at her now and then, but eventually they’re snuggling and making out and there is a particularly awful incident whereby Christopher forcibly rapes Cathy, only for her to later tell him that she “secretly wanted it” and he “didn’t need to feel bad because they did nothing wrong”.

Feel free to take a moment to let the wave of nausea pass. I know I needed to take a few, myself.

The thing is, I’m really only assuming the grandmother’s motivation and role in the whole business. As a villain, she’s completely two-dimensional. Her dialogue and mannerisms are laughably cliche, like a child’s imagining what an evil grandmother would be like. At one point, she is literally (in a dream, no less) likened to the witch from Hansel and Gretel. There’s no insight into her past, her marriage, her motivation for keeping up the charade when (clang!) we find out the grandfather has actually been dead for months.





Ah, yes, the big twist reveal (as if we needed another): the mother and grandmother kept the “flowers” locked in the attic even after the grandfather passed away. The ladies have actually been trying to kill the kids off, by putting arsenic in their daily food deliveries. Andrews explains this strange new malevolence by having the kids overhear the servants say that the grandfather wrote a “codicil” into his will, stating that the mother would never inherit a dime if she had any children. Yeah, sure. Sounds legit. What lawyer wouldn’t sign off on that?

That’s the final straw for the kids (not the locked-in-the-attic-for-three-years thing, not the starved-for-two-weeks-because-Cathy-took-her-shirt-off thing, not the their-mother-didn’t-visit-them-for-months-because-she-was-honeymooning-with-her-new-husband thing, not the death-of-one-of-the-twins thing). Arsenic in their desserts? No, thank you! They hustle up everything of value that they can carry and run away. And they decide not to dob in their mother and grandmother for the imprisonment and attempted murder because…? Something about not wanting to go to a foster home? Wanting their deeply disturbing incestuous union to continue? Holy heck, I could barely bring myself to care by that point. I was just glad to be done with Flowers In The Attic and the terrible, schlocky writing.

Flowers In The Attic is a strange hybrid: a barely-comprehensible poorly-written story full of holes that still managed to disturb and horrify me. At first, I was frustrated by the mistreatment of the children, but all too soon I was frustrated by the children themselves, and the whole ludicrous set-up. I was sickened by the abuse and incest, but also by the fact that this is marketed as a young adult novel. I’m hardly one to restrict any young person’s access to any reading material, but damn. Even for kids that have a taste for the macabre, it’s a bit much, and the quality of the writing and the strength of the resolution (or lack thereof) just doesn’t justify it. If you’re going to serve young readers up a heaping plate of “adult themes”, best you give them some redeeming quality to wash it down with. They’d be better off reading Lolita.





It would seem that I’m pretty much alone in my opinion, however – maybe because I never did, in fact, read Flowers In The Attic as a young adult and as such have no nostalgic attachment to it. The book was an immediate sensation, and went on to sell over forty million copies world-wide. Of course, that success was not without controversy, with schools and libraries removing it from the reach of young readers (with limited success). Controversy also tainted the novel’s supposed inspiration; Andrews maintained all her life that Flowers In The Attic was “based on a true story”, but there is basically no evidence (beyond Andrews’ account and the reported corroboration of an unidentified family member) to support that. I’m not saying people aren’t held captive against their will for years on end, and that terrible things don’t happen… but Flowers In The Attic is so preposterous and flawed, I’m disinclined to believe a word about it.

Still, the legend lives on. There have been two film adaptations of Flowers In The Attic, a stage-play, a slew of sequels, prequels, re-tellings… even after Andrews’ death, the ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman took up the torch and continued publishing under her name. There are now more than 80 books in circulation for the VC Andrews brand, but I can tell you what: as far as I’m concerned, one was more than enough. If you get your jollies being scared, read some decent true crime. If you want some campy gothic fun, read classics like Dracula. If you want taboo, pick up some Henry Miller. But, for the love of all that is good and gory, don’t bother with Flowers In The Attic, not even to see what all the fuss is about.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Flowers In The Attic:

  • “Disturbing and infuriating all wrapped up in one. Don’t think I’ll be continuing the series. Not a fan of terrible parenting, child abuse or incest. No thank you.” – aziza
  • “good read will have to put it down due to getting angry” – Brandy
  • “I liked the movie but I’m halfway through the book and can’t stay interested. Oh look they’re still in the attic…still….yup, still there. Next chapter…still there.” – Kellyann

What Makes For A Good Plot Twist?

With all the twisty thriller reading going on this time of year (I got in on the action myself just last week), I got to thinking: what makes for a good plot twist? We’ve all read books where the “big twist” feels like a let-down, for one reason or another. Sometimes, it’s a cliche or a trope so worn you can see it coming a mile off (the butler did it!). Sometimes, it feels like a cheap ploy to shock us (the otherwise-realistic house had ghosts in the attic all along!). Writing a good plot twist seems to be more of an art than a science, so hats off to those who can do it well. Here are some of the common denominators…

What Makes For A Good Plot Twist? - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A good plot twist is one you’re not expecting.

I’m guilty of making this harder, given that I review books and all, and I frequently discuss a given book’s twisty-ness (or lack thereof). Still, I feel like that’s different than a book’s blurb or marketing material promising a “big twist” or “surprise ending”. When I see that, I shudder, because I know I’m going to spend the whole time I’m reading wondering “was that it? was that it?”.

A good plot twist is timed just right.

It needs to get all Goldilocks on us. Some plot twists come too soon (we’re not well enough acquainted with the status quo before it’s disrupted). Some plot twists come too late (why are you revealing such important information just a few pages before the end?). Depending on the story, an early or late plot twist can work, but it’s still got to allow enough time for the reader to become invested beforehand, and to see the fallout after.


A good plot twist is totally unlikely, but also foreseeable (once you think about it).

Readers want a plot twist to feel “earned”: we were being set-up all along and we didn’t realise it. It’s strange and unlikely enough for us to not see it coming, but – if we look back over everything we’ve read so far – we had all the clues we needed to figure it out for ourselves. It needs to feel inevitable, but also shocking. I think the sign of a really good plot twist is when you’d be more than happy to re-read the book, and take pleasure in zooming in on all the hints you missed the first time around.

Actually, that brings me to a related bonus point: a good plot twist is re-readable. If the enjoyment of the book is totally predicated on the surprise, and without that the book holds no interest, it’s not a good book. There, I said it. Fight me in the comments, if you want.

A good plot twist should throw you off the scent.

Red herrings are hacky, sometimes, but they’re damn effective. The best books with plot twists all have them. Sometimes, they’re too obvious – if all the signs are pointing to A, our cynical book-loving brains are sniffing around for B – but even that can work to an advantage. Perhaps the husband really did kill his wife, but his wife was a serial killer herself. Perhaps the crop circles really are the work of local high-school kids, but aliens are actually visiting the farm. Never underestimate the power of misdirection!


A good plot twist ups the stakes.

The big reveal has to have some kind of meaning, beyond just telling us whodunnit or why a character was acting funny this whole time. Even if the plot twist doesn’t come until the epilogue, we need to feel as though it answers some questions – or raises entirely different ones – and adds an extra layer of complexity to the story. The stake-upper-er might give important context to earlier throwaway scenes, it might inflict emotional turmoil (on the reader or the character, or both), or it might just put a ticking clock on solving the mystery.

A good plot twist never involves a dream sequence.

Seriously. I don’t want the character “waking up to their alarm”. I don’t want the answer to be revealed to them by their long-dead beloved Pop-Pop. No dreams. No dreams.

What do you think makes for a good plot twist? Let me know – bonus points if you give examples! – in the comments below.



And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

This year (aside from everything else) marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Agatha Christie’s first mystery novel, the one that introduced the world to our most-beloved detective since Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot. Christie went on to become the Queen of Crime. She has sold over a billion books in English, and another billion in translation. The lady’s got the chops, if popular opinion is anything to go by. So, for my first foray into her body of work, I chose the best-of-the-best: And Then There Were None, which, according to the blurb on this edition, is the world’s “best-selling mystery” with over 100 million copies sold.

(Christie herself also declared it to be the “most difficult” book she ever wrote, by the way.)

Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion. All were brought there under similar false pretenses: an invitation from an old friend, a job offer from an agency, and so forth. On the first evening, while they’re all finishing up dinner, a recorded voice piped into the room by gramophone accuses them all of having a guilty secret. Specifically, each one of them has committed (or contributed to) a murder. By the time they’ve stopped reeling from the announcement, one of the guests is dead.

Obviously, they all decide to get while the getting’s good – who wants to hang around on an island with a corpse, especially when all the living souls there with you know your darkest secret? The thing is, a terrible storm blows up, preventing any boats from traveling to or from the mainland. There’s another death, then another, then another… none of them accidental. Who is the killer? Will anyone survive?

As far as mystery novels go, And Then There Were None demonstrably has a (pardon the pun) killer premise. It’s a locked-room mystery, with a ticking clock.





Alas, I’m going to have to pull us away from the intrigue for a second to address the very obvious elephant in the room. Agatha Christie was… well, a racist, homophobic, shit-storm of a person. If she’d been alive today and had a Twitter account, she would have been publicly flayed for her outrageously prejudiced depictions of her characters that weren’t white and straight. And Then There Were None was originally published as Ten Little N*****s (no, the original title was not censored) in the U.K., and as Ten Little Indians in the U.S. Obviously, those titles are problematic in the extreme.

Both versions were drawn from alternate versions of a nursery rhyme, which (in turn) forms a central part of the novel’s premise (more on that in a minute). Even back at the time of publication, in 1939, the n-word was a bit too contentious for an American audience (thus, the name change). Various editions continued to use the racial slurs, on both sides of the pond, until 1985, when decency finally won out and all references to n*****s and Indians were replaced by “soldiers”. Thus, the nursery rhyme in question is “Ten Soldier Boys”, and the island on which the story takes place is “Soldier Island”.

Still, traces of Christie’s personal prejudices remain. In the first chapter, there’s some truly alarming anti-Semitic remarks. She uses the word “queer” at least fifty times – whether as a slur or a contextually appropriate equivalent of “strange”, it’s difficult to tell, but it’s still discomfiting. Really, it’s a wonder that she even counted the butler and his wife as “people”. As such, I feel obliged to warn all readers up front: if you’re particularly sensitive to these kinds of insensitivity, And Then There Were None (and, in fact, Christie’s entire back-catalogue) is not for you.





But, assuming you can stomach it, let’s get back to the story: in each guest’s room is a framed copy of the Ten Soldier Boys poem. The deaths of the guests follow the pattern of the rhyme: the first chokes to death at dinner, the second “overslept” (i.e., never woke up), and so on. Luckily, this edition includes the poem as an epigraph, because I couldn’t help flicking back to it after each murder to see how it related to the original poem and to try and guess how the next murder might take place. Sure, the whole thing is a bit far-fetched… but it was fun!

And Then There Were None was pretty much what I’d expected, given its age and reputation. It was quaint, and there were some unintentionally hilarious moments (such as the woman who marvels at “how big the sea was!”, and the frequency with which brandy is offered as a cure for fainting), but it also managed to be compelling and clever.

“When you read what happens after that you will not believe it, but you will keep on reading, and as one incredible event is followed by another even more incredible you will still keep on reading. The whole thing is utterly impossible and utterly fascinating. It is the most baffling mystery that Agatha Christie has ever written, and if any other writer has ever surpassed it for sheer puzzlement the name escapes our memory. We are referrinng, of course, to mysteries that have logical explanations, as this one has. It is a tall story, to be sure, but it could have happened.”

Isaac AnDerson, 25 February 1940, The New York Times Book Review

Everything is wrapped up very neatly in the end (no ambiguous fade-to-black endings for the Queen of Crime, no siree!). The epilogue appears in two parts: first, a confused conversation between two Scotland Yard officers attempting to reconstruct the events that took place on Soldier Island; then, a trawler captain finds a message in a bottle, a written confession from the murderer. Normally, I’d be happy to go ahead and spoil the ending (the story is over eighty years old, after all), but seeing as it managed to keep me guessing right up until then, game respects game and all that.

And Then There Were None is the most-adapted Agatha Christie book. In fact, a few of the adaptations she even wrote and produced herself. She famously changed the ending for theater audiences when she wrote the 1943 stage-play, the original version being a bit “too bleak”. Many subsequent adaptations have also used that alternative ending. I like the original, though, and I can’t imagine that a more up-beat version could be any better. All told, And Then There Were None is an (almost) thoroughly enjoyable classic crime novel, a quick and satisfying read (if you can set aside the problematic elements).

My favourite Amazon reviews of And Then There Were None:

  • “Good read!! The pages are smooth! I felt it.” – Mushfiq Ayon
  • “Looking forward to more books by her. Completely enjoyed this….” – Craig S. Pederson
  • “I ordered the book for my sister-in-law who has lost her sight. She also lost the ability to borrow listening tapes from the state during the lockdown. The book was a disappointment as the reader has a heavy accent making it difficult to understand. This isn’t expected since British programs such as the “Crown” and “Keeping up Appearances” are produced without English accents. “ – Marlene Gantt
  • “As you would expect from the Grand Dame. I am more than a bit confused over the epilogue, but I can live with that. Unlike the 10 Little Indians. “ – Mike

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