Imitation is considered the highest form flattery. This can only be done so long before the critics start to call it out for being unoriginal. Others may even argue that it’s just a poorer version of something which was once lauded as the best. The question is whether the work is a perfect copy or if its plot is based purely on the original. The intricate plot of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None made it an international bestseller. Many have tried to emulate Christie’s work by writing similar mysteries. Gretchen McNeil is a great example of this type of novel. She uses both the plotline and the characterisation to create a contemporary novel. McNeil’s novel is in no way better than Christie’s. The story was rewritten in a way that made it a compelling novel. McNeil, who was inspired by Christie and her plot, developed a suspenseful novel through character development and puzzles.
The plot of both novels is what makes them so similar. McNeil’s plot is the same as Christie’s. In both novels, ten characters come together through a chance event and then learn they’ll be killed for vengeance. They meet on a remote and unreachable island. A boat can only reach the island once all characters have arrived. McNeil’s book has some minor changes that are in line with the new time period. Christie’s story was set up in 1939. The older characters rely more on their instincts in order to survive. McNeil has altered these small details in her story. Her characters all are teenagers. That implies they’re not mature enough and need some guidance. A small element that is not always obvious is the mention of using technology. McNeil wrote, “‘The phone’ Kumiko slowly said like she were speaking to a kid, ‘are not ‘…. What would they do? No phones, cell phones or internet.” (80-81) Since this novel was first published in 2012, the time period between Christie and McNeil’s novels is vastly different. Christie’s book was written before the advent of technology, so the characters had to find other ways to communicate. McNeil’s inclusion of this detail was insightful, as 2012 is the year when technology boomed. This minor detail would have helped readers understand the teenagers better. Since technology is easily accessible, it would be difficult to imagine them not using it.
Character development is another similar concept that Christie used. McNeil’s characters are similar (if they’re not identical) to Christie’s. Minnie, for example, is introduced to the reader right at the beginning. The reader learns that she is not normal right away. McNeil wrote, “Meg knew the sharpness Minnie had in her voice.” It usually meant a rapid shift in Minnie’s emotions, something that happened too frequently nowadays, especially once she stopped her antidepressants. Vera displays this mental instability. Christie’s description of Vera supports this: “She cried, in a high-pitched voice, with wild laughter.” They looked at her, uncomprehensively. It was like the girl, who appeared to be sane and well-balanced before them, had gone crazy in front of their faces. Both characters are unstable in a similar way. Vera’s instability is the result of Hugo’s obsession and her willingness to do anything she could for him. Minnie’s bipolar disease is the cause of her instabilities. Authors chose different endings. Christie’s Vera killed the only one left alive, but Vera’s insanity drove her to kill herself. McNeil changed the ending of her story because readers knew Minnie had a weakness. They would not be surprised if Minnie were the killer. McNeil’s novel, however, was more subtle in its incorporation of the concept.
McNeil retains the element that surprises, but she uses a completely different killer. She did not change the idea, she just reinterpreted it. She continues, “Claire’s diary came with a message.” Tom, help them to understand what happened. Tom, make them understand what they did. That’s all I’m trying to do. While it’s understandable to Tom that he would want vengeance on his sister for her suicide, he handled the situation in a twisted way. To show that he was insane, he ensured that anyone who mocked or bullied his little sister in school would pay for it. Tom is akin to Christie’s main murderer, Wargrave. Wargrave is adamant about his madness, stating: “I have always wanted-let’s be honest-to murder someone myself…I MUST-I MUST-I MUST-commit murder!” Both characters are motivated by a partial logic and majority lunacy. However, their creation and development is different. McNeil, like Christie, succeeds in revealing who the real villain is when he introduces a crazy brother who tries to avenge her sister’s suicide. The differences in the character development of these characters adds to the complexity of the plot.
Christie’s cleverness was evident in her use of different elements in order to solve the puzzle. She achieved this by incorporating a rhyme into the puzzle. The rhyme starts with 10 soldiers, but at the end there are none left. Christie’s use of this element was most effective because it made readers anxious about the next murder and how it would relate to the nursery rhyme. McNeil’s story was not as detailed. Claire’s diaries, which outlined the murders in detail, were not revealed until much later in this story. The writing was more subtle, but if the reader hadn’t been actively searching for clues, they would have totally missed it. She writes that “He said, if you really loved me, you would help him. Otherwise, it’s like shooting him in the back of the head… The fatalities. Suicide note on sheet music. Images of the gavel used in debate teams. The screen shows math problems. Vengeance’s mine.” (202) Meg is the main character in this scene and she is trying to explain herself why Nathan was shot because it sounds familiar. She only realized Tom was doing this after reading Claire’s diaries. This was better than Christie’s method, because it made readers focus on the small details. They would have otherwise been overlooked if not for the character’s attention. McNeil, on the other hand, was very meticulous when it came to giving clues. Christie did not do this.
It is a commonality between the two authors that whatever one lacks, the other excels at. Christie did an impressive job of incorporating small china figures into the countdown. She writes, “In middle of table little china figures. Then, I began to clean up and there were only nine… but now, I’m going to throw away only eight!” Roger noticed that as murders occurred, the china figures started to disappear. The china figures were useful to readers, even though they could be argued that the figures had no purpose. McNeil’s method of imitating this concept was less effective than she had hoped. She painted a red slash to indicate who was still alive. This technique didn’t work so well because the plot did not follow. Christie’s seemed more natural because the nursery rhyme was a complement to the story. McNeil, on the other hand, added it as a way to turn her mystery novel into more of a horror. The puzzle element was poorly executed because it interrupted flow of the novel.
It is creativity that ultimately determines whether or not something can be copied. Authors must use inspiration from novels to begin their stories. However, they should not go so far as to make it look like plagiarism. The style is a current one in today’s culture. An author’s success is ultimately determined by the reader and his or her perspective. Agatha Christie helped to open doors for future authors, like Gretchen McNeil. McNeil adapted many of Christie’s plot elements, character traits, and puzzles, but it was not an exact copy. She changed some of these elements in order to make her novel unique, succeeding where she could and failing where she couldn’t. Her emulation was successful enough to make a mystery/horror book.
Paraphrased: In addition
Christie, Agatha. And then there were none. Harper published a work in New York in 1939. Print.
McNeil, Gretchen. Ten. HarperCollins released New York in 2012. Print.