Shortly after arriving on an isolated island for a weekend-long party, a group of ten teenagers start dying one by one. Unable to find anyone else on the island, and with the body count rising, the teens are soon faced with the reality that the deaths are no accident and that one of them may be a murderer.
The book I’ve just described is Ten by Gretchen McNeil, which is essentially just a teenage update of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. However, with a few minor word changes, I could just as easily have been describing Devil (And Then There Were None in an elevator), Legion (And Then There Were None in space), Harper’s Island (And Then There Were None on a larger scale, with 29 victims and only 4 survivors) or Identity (And Then There Were None with an even bigger twist than Agatha Christie first imagined), to name just a few. Let’s face it, since it was first published in 1939, And Then There Were None has been adapted/paid tribute to/ripped off a lot of times, but that’s not really surprising since, in spite of its age, And Then There Were None is still one of the best mysteries stories around.
In writing And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie broke the traditional murder mystery mould and created the set-up that would later be used with much success for a significant proportion of the teenage slasher movies made from the late 1970’s onwards (think Scream, right down to the ‘you sin, you die’ motive). Instead of a murder being committed and a detective being called in to solve it, there is no clear detective in And Then There Were None, just a bunch of characters who are all just as likely to be the killer or his next victim, and who are too busy turning on each other and trying to stay alive to do any real investigating. Sound familiar? The constant stream of victims keeps the tension high and the story moving, while the lack of a detective within the novel makes the situation more dangerous. There is no saviour to step in at the last minute, just a bunch of scared characters and a killer. Christie also invented one of the great mystery plot twists with this book (at least, until it got used a hundred times and everyone saw it coming).
Getting back to Gretchen McNeil’s Ten, although I had no difficulties in finishing the book, and quite enjoyed it (in spite of the fact that the writing’s nothing special and the main character’s best friend, Minnie, was so annoying I kept wishing the killer would choose her next), for those familiar with And Then There Were None, it offers nothing new. All of the key plot points are identical and if you know the signature plot twist, you can guess the killer’s identity pretty early on. All that is left for the reader to do is to guess the order in which the murders are going to occur.
I don’t have any problems with Gretchen McNeil borrowing her plot from Agatha Christie, but her book would have been a lot better if she had been able to add something of her own to the mix. Harper’s Island and Identity both managed to do that (and Devil to a certain extent, although less so), and in the process, distanced themselves from their source material and became strong stories in their own right. By simply changing the age of the characters, McNeil’s novel is rendered little more than an acceptable homage to a much better classic. Read it by all means, but then read the original.
Verdict: An entertaining read, but if you’ve already read And Then There Were None, don’t expect anything new.