If I Were Lawrence Wargrave
Agatha Christie wrote sixty-six detective novels, and, although Murder on the Orient Express remains my personal favourite, And Then There Were None is not far behind. I've always been fascinated by the character of Lawrence Wargrave, who takes it on himself to murder nine people whom the law cannot touch, but whom he believes to deserve death, beginning with the most forgivable, and working his way up to the most heinous.
So this is a thought experiment: If I were Lawrence Wargrave, in what order would I do the murders? It isn't easy, because Wargrave has collected a pretty despicable bunch of characters.
General MacArthur. If a man discovers his wife having an affair with another man, he has a right to shoot him. I'll be quite frank. But MacArthur, rather than facing and shooting Richmond like a man, sent him on a suicide mission in France. To abuse his position as a general was cowardly and dishonest. If you have a problem with your fellow man, sort it man to man. None of this sneaking around (let's bring back duelling). But because I don't disagree in principle with his right to kill Richmond, he dies first. I have some sympathy with MacArthur, notwithstanding his underhand tactics. The same can't be said for any of the other people I'm about to bump off.
Mr and Mrs Rogers. Wargrave claims that Mrs Rogers "acted very largely under the influence of her husband", but I see no evidence of that. Wargrave seems to be suggesting that her nerves make her less guilty or more sympathetic, but as far as I'm concerned they just make her a coward. The Rogers abused the trust of their elderly employer, in order to inherit her money. Simple, ruthless, cold-blooded murder.
Emily Brent. She abused her position as an employer and abandoned someone dependent on her, to whom she owed a living. When you hire someone, you take on a responsibility for their welfare. Beatrice Taylor's behaviour may have been irresponsible, but Emily Brent, who was the natural person for her to turn to and who should have shown kindness, cast her out. Her one redeeming virtue was her refusal to allow her nerves to go to pieces. Also the only one (apart from perhaps MacArthur) who didn't act out of weakness or spinelessness, and doesn't try to make feeble self-pitying excuses.
Dr Armstrong. An alcoholic who abandons his Hippocratic Oath and all sense of responsibility. He has no excuses, no good reasons, he was just a selfish, weak person. Louisa Clees had never done him any harm. He cared more about alcohol than about his work, or about another person's life. His position as a doctor is admired and trusted by society, but it didn't mean anything to him. All that mattered to him was making a lot of money on Harley Street.
William Blore. Driven by greed and only interested in the money the gangsters pay him as a bribe to frame James Landor. A police inspector has a duty to society, which includes protecting the innocent. His corruption goes beyond Landor, tragic as his death in prison was, and undermines the justice system as a whole. He put money before his duty and his principles. He chipped away at the right to a fair trial as a whole, and the faith of the accused in the justice system generally.
Philip Lombard. The duty of a commander to his men is absolute. He puts them first. Always. Otherwise, how can he expect their loyalty in return? Philip Lombard abandoned his men to starve in the desert. He failed his duty as a soldier and the minimal standards of decency expected of a human being. He was cowardly, he was dishonest, he was utterly, ruthlessly selfish.
Vera Claythorne. Now we're rummaging through the deep dregs of the human race. A woman who murders a child in cold blood for money. I don't even believe that she feels Hugo has been unjustly cheated of the money, she just wants him to inherit so she can be a rich man's wife. She had a position of trust as a governess and Cyril trusted her with his life. There are no excuses for Claythorne, she's just a straight-up moral vacuum. And I'm not fooled into thinking nervous hysteria is guilt—not that it would matter if it were, it's too late now.
Anthony Marston. Killers by dangerous driving are the worst kind of people. It's the ultimate disrespect of human life. At least a murderer thinks his victim is worth murdering. People who kill people speeding just don't care. They just. Don't. Care. Marston was a spoilt brat whom I'd enjoy breaking before killing. He killed two children for no reason. No motive. Just because he was inherently a vile, selfish human being.
So that's that, everybody. I'd love to know what you think of this charming collection of humans. What order would you bump them off in?