My Rating – 2.5/5
I found this to be an easy, simple read and contrary to my expectations, a let-down as a murder mystery. The story was simply carved, the murderer quite predictable being the only one with a strong motive. There was a hint of an unexpected turn towards the end of the events but it failed to impress. The cleverness and skills of observation that are usually exploited by such mystery stories was dreadfully missing. The character development is sketchy and each person is only briefly outlined making only a poor “imitation” of a person. I enjoyed the spooky atmosphere built up in the tale and appreciated the fact that it stayed clean of sleazy elements often used in these stories.
This story is about ten strangers who are all invited to the Soldier Island under vague circumstances. This island is a trap set by an unknown stranger who calls himself Mr.Owen and writes a letter pretending to be a relative or friend to gather these people. Each of these strangers arrive to the island expecting a nice little vacation and some time to unwind in a fancy resort by the seaside. Boy, are they wrong! One by one, each of these strangers die in unexplained circumstances and these deaths run parallel to the description of the deaths in a little rhyme called “The Ten Indian Soldiers”. The question is – who is the murderer? And why is he killing these people?
The latter question gets answered quickly– the murderer has brought together a band of strangers who have committed murders themselves in ways that went undetected by the law. For example, encouraging a child to swim to a dangerous spot and then unsuccessfully attempting to save him while he drowns to his death. Another example is leaving twenty natives on their own to meet their fate on a dangerous island. These are crimes committed that lead to a murder indirectly and cannot be traced back to the killer by the law. Each stranger on the island is guilty of such a crime. It is hard to write a novel with ten murders as each of these strangers meets their death and still hold the readers’ interest, however the novel manages to do that. The story gets spookier gradually as each soldier dies leaving lesser and lesser remnants of hope. The Indian rhyme, the ten china figures which gradually disappear as each person dies and the setting of a large house on an island cut off from the rest of the world are strong elements that add to the overall spooky atmosphere.
Some interesting questions on guilt and justice are touched on the surface, posed incompletely and left. The murderer believes that their crimes must be brought to justice. He takes it upon himself to correct the imbalance and serve justice that the law fails to. But the question is- who gives him the power to decide what justice is? Is he right to play god to these people and determine that they are sinners and condemn them to their death? Is “sin” as black and white as that? What constitutes a “sin” and how do you measure the degree of fault? Does the conscience of the sinner play a role in the administration of justice– if the sinner is tormented by his/her conscience, is he in some sense better than a cold-blooded killer? And in that case, does he/she deserve lesser punishment? If a sinner believes he/she has not done anything wrong, but has simply acted in the correct course according to the personal perception, is that person devoid of blame?
The murderer kills these people on the island according to the degree in which he believes the sinner is guilty. In case of cold-blooded crimes, he makes these people suffer longer. In case of people tormented by their own conscience about their deeds, he ends the suffering of these people quickly. The determination of the rank and relative degree of blame is interesting. For example, according to the executioner – running two children over with a car and feeling no remorse is better than firing a pregnant servant who then goes to commit suicide and feeling perfectly in-culpable about it.
Overall, I expected cleverer turns from the story, some ingenious sleuthing and ‘Aha!’ moments. This expectation was not met with and I was disappointed with the book. It managed to weakly touch over some interesting questions on guilt, justice and conscience after committing a crime.