The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie

Miss Jane Marple is arguably one of the most famous characters Agatha Christie ever created. An elderly spinster living in the quiet village of St. Mary Mead, she acts as an amateur detective.

The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie was first published in the UK by Collins Crime Lab in 1932. In the US it was called The Tuesday Club Murders and was published by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1933. Even though Miss Marple made her first appearance in The Murder at the Vicarage published in 1930, these were the earliest stories of Miss Marple ever written.

The Thirteen Problems contains thirteen short stories featuring Miss Marple. The first twelve have loosely connected narratives.

The first six stories are told by six people who are guests at Miss Marple’s house, calling themselves The Tuesday Night Club. Each Tuesday one of the guests, including the ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard Sir Henry Clithering, narrates a mystery, the solution to which is only known to the narrator of the story. And each time much to everyone’s surprise Miss Marple manages to unravel the mystery before anyone else. The guests are left stunned as they all envision her as a gentle old lady who has very limited if any worldly knowledge at all.

The first set of stories are, The Tuesday Night Club, The Idol House of Astarte, Ingots of Gold, The Blood-Stained Pavement, Motive v. Opportunity and The Thumb Mark of St. Peter.

In the first story, The Tuesday Night Club, the death of a diner is blamed on a can of bad lobsters. But when all the other diners are very much alive could the truth lie somewhere else?

In The Idol House of Astarte, when the host of a party unceremoniously drops dead right in front of his guests on a moonlit night the atmosphere becomes tainted with the fear of the unknown and the supernatural.

Ingots of Gold tells the story of a lost Spanish treasure.

In The Blood-Stained Pavement, artist Joyce Lempriere observes the encounter between a newly wed couple and the husband’s exotic female friend and feels increasingly uneasy about it all.

An elderly man’s last will and testament turns out to be nothing more than a blank piece of paper in Motive v. Opportunity.

And finally in The Thumb Mark of St. Peter, Miss Marple goes to visit her temperamental niece Mabel after she’s suspected of doing away with her equally volatile husband.

The next six stories are told at a dinner party held at the house of Colonel and Mrs. Bantry where Miss Marple is invited at the request of Sir Henry Clithering. Here too six unsolved mysteries are narrated and once again Miss Marple manages to solve them without batting an eyelid.

The second set of stories are The Blue Geranium, The Companion, The Four Suspects, A Christmas Tragedy, The Herb of Death and The Affair at the Bungalow.

In the The Blue Geranium, a bed ridden woman with a hysterical streak becomes convinced by a fortune teller that the blue flower means death to her.

In The Companion, a rich employer is suspected of murdering her paid companion. But what could her motive be behind killing a lowly, poor companion?

The Four Suspects is the story of a renowned man who is marked for death. With only four trustworthy people having access to him can anything go wrong?

In A Christmas Tragedy, Miss Marple is convinced that a young woman is about to be murdered.

In The Herb of Death, the young ward of a courtly old gentleman is accidentally poisoned at the dinner table.

And in The Affair at the Bungalow, an actress is mixed up with a case of robbery and impersonation.

Finally in the thirteenth tale, Death by Drowning, Sir Henry Clithering teams up with Miss Marple to solve the death of a local girl.

Among these my favourites are, The Tuesday Night Club, The Idol House of Astarte,The Blood-Stained Pavement, The Blue Geranium, The Companion, The Four Suspects and The Herb of Death.

The Thirteen Problems is where we first meet the inimitable Miss Marple. With her gentle blue eyes and fussy, old spinsterish manner she seems like such a dear, old, harmless lady. But under that gentle demeanor lies a shrewd judge of character. And the habit of believing the worst of everyone and being very frighteningly correct in her assumptions. She’s not afraid to deal with death and unpleasantness and is not easily intimidated. In fact most of the time her assumptions and solutions are far more shocking than anything envisioned by the more ‘so called’ modern and enlightened generation.

Christie based the character of Miss Marple partially on her own grandmother. Another one of Christie’s fictional characters, Caroline Sheppard from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, is said to have been an earlier incarnation of Miss Marple.

All of Miss Marple’s solutions are based on her observations of the village life. Her unrivaled understanding of the Human Nature always gives her a deeper insight in to the true nature of crimes. She always maintains that Human Nature is very much the same everywhere and certain types of persons will always act in certain ways.

I always feel immediately drawn in by the cozy and comfortable atmosphere of the stories. Miss Marple’s home and that of the Bantry’s are surely the perfect place for narrating such mystery yarns!

I love reading short stories and these are undoubtedly some of my favourites. I love Agatha Christie and this book is an all time favourite. Whenever I feel low or need something quick to read I go back to this book.

Any mystery lover will surely enjoy these little gems of detective fiction. Highly recommended.

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One comment

  1. Hello,
    I’ve been trying to collect a set of the fourteen books (and possibly the three omnibuses) that match these covers. I’m talking about the ones that have the title on the lower part of the book, in lower case, and AC’s signature in the lower right corner. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Andy

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