By Jeffrey Round
228 pages, $15.99 (paper)
And Then There Were None (first published in 1939 as Ten Little Niggers, an egregious title!) is an Agatha Christie best-seller (with over 100 million copies sold) that focuses on a group of eight people lured to a remote isolated island off the Devon coast of England. Their hosts never arrive but it becomes known by a gramophone recording in the villa that the guests and the two servants who greet them have all been involved with crimes for which they have so far eluded the long arm of the law. Christie’s gimmick is to kill off each of the ten characters, one by one, tying each death to a nursery rhyme and the breakage of ten figurines, one by one, on the dining room table. The story is characteristically British, with characters ranging from a retired general, a rigid spinster, a retired judge, a soldier of fortune, a sports mistress, and Scotland Yard detectives, and one of the appeals of this who-dunnit is its challenge to identify the killer or killers.
Working in the long shadow of this famous murder-mystery, Jeffrey Round (Lambda Award-winning novelist) demonstrates his talent for adapting and reimagining Agatha Christie’s classic. Instead of Devon, he offers a remote, rugged island off the coast of Seattle (rumoured to have been purchased at one time by either Madonna or Bono) and his collection of characters includes three members (lead singer Spike Anthrax, bassist Pete Doghouse, guitarist Max Hardcore) of a once-famous punk band called The Ladykillers, whose glory days are long over. Their former manager, Harvey Keill, has invited them and an entourage of groupies, girlfriends, a former civil rights lawyer, a blind American rock critic, and a real-estate agent to this remote locale, where a dark secret emerges from the past to haunt them and lead, one by one, to a mysterious fate. Instead of a nursery rhyme and figurines, Round uses a pornographic twelve-verse punk rock lyric and twelve chess pieces to tie each character to the mystery. His wit is different, of course, from Christie’s. The emblematic names of the former band members give proof enough, but so does his mode of narration. Round has a sharp ear for dialogue and an appreciation of the grain and temper of contemporary pop culture, and this fast-paced novel is saturated with the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’roll of the 80s. The cast of characters is diverse and interesting, and the modes of death are various. Round knows how to build suspense, segue from episode to episode, and construct an engrossing page-turner. The denouement is achieved by the final chapter of the deceased blind critic’s long-awaited history of punk rock, entitled Endgame.