Book Review: And Then They Were Doomed: A Little Library Mystery
As the title indicates, And Then They Were Doomed is inspired by Agatha Christie. Right of the bat, readers should be warned that the endings to about half a dozen Christie novels are referenced here, including And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and a handful of others. Readers with an encyclopedic knowledge of Christie’s works, like myself, will catch the in-jokes and Christie-based clues a lot earlier than those who do not know Christie so well. Indeed, I caught a lot of references and alternative explanations for clues to those in the books based on my own knowledge of Christie, since some names are used more than once in her books. Most of the in-jokes will only be caught be Christie fans.
The central character is Zoe Zola, an author of books on literary history and criticism, who is abruptly invited to a conference on Agatha Christie’s work held in the Upper Peninsula and sponsored by the Northern Michigan Agatha Christie Society. When Zoe arrives, her host is named Emily Brent, who mystery fans ought to recognize as a character from Christie’s And Then There Were None, though she claims to have never read Christie’s most famous novel. Another person has a name from The Pale Horse, and as Zoe studies the names of the other attendees, nearly all of their monikers have a Christie connection.
Soon, one of the guests vanishes without a trace, then the same happens to a second character. Notably, there is no confirmed death until quite late in the novel.
Due to the relatively low body count, And Then They Were Doomed is not the most accurate title for the novel, although it is a clever bit of marketing. Potential buyers might start typing the more famous novel’s title into an Amazon.com search browser, and stumble across this book after typing in the first two words and perhaps part of the third. Something similar may have drawn online shoppers to Thomas Perry’s terrific thriller The Old Man when they were looking for the Hemingway novel.
Perhaps Buzzelli’s best-drawn character is the thoroughly grating and loathsome academician and literary critic Aaron Kennedy, who seems to have a deep disdain for Christie’s work– and that of all female writers. Possibly Buzzelli was thinking of some critics who published monographs on Christie, all the while sneering as if merely writing the author’s name somehow constituted slumming it intellectually. Kennedy is a deliberately hateful character, so as the chapters pass and he’s still breathing, the question of “What’s going on at this conference?” becomes superseded by “Why hasn’t somebody killed Aaron Kennedy yet?” As Kennedy is by far the most developed character after Zoe, it’s clear that he’s at the center of the story, but whether he’s a villain or a victim remains unconfirmed until the end.
Ultimately, the book suffers due to an absence of real menace or confirmed danger. There’s definitely an intriguing mystery, but the lack of actual death keeps the stakes low (a situation that could have been fixed with the adoption of a pivotal plot twist from And Then There Were None). The clear artifice of the situation telegraphs a lot of the solution, and the introductory scene serves as a major spoiler as the structure of the plot becomes apparent. The mystery is always intriguing, but there’s rarely a true sense of peril.
Not quite a parody, though definitely a homage, And Then They Were Doomed will appeal most to fans of Agatha Christie, though the new novel pales in comparison to its legendary namesake.
And Then They Were Doomed: A Little Library Mystery
By Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Crooked Lane Books