The Thirteen Problems, by Agatha Christie

>> Monday, December 20, 2010

TITLE: The Thirteen Problems (also published as The Tuesday Club Murders)
AUTHOR: Agatha Christie

PAGES: 224

SETTING: 1920s-30s England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: A collection of Miss Marple stories. Includes recurring characters.

REASON FOR READING: I read this one years and years ago, and decided to pull it up for reread after Ana posted about it on her blog.

Each member at a Tuesday night get-together tells a tale of mystery, preferably one he or she has personal knowledge of, and the rest of the crowd tries to figure out the solution. As Miss Marple is among them, looking harmless with her knitting, the rest hardly stand a chance...
The basic premise of this collection of short stories involves a bit of a game. A group of people tell each other stories of mysteries they've been involved in, and see who in the group can guess the right solution. At first everyone completely ignores Miss Marple, who is a lot less worldly than the other participants. And yet, time and time again, she's the one who hits on the answer.

The short stories are separated into three sections (I expect they would have been published separately originally, and only gathered together for this collection later). In the first few stories, author Raymond West is visiting his Aunt Jane, who's playing host for a few other friends of his as well, including Sir Henry Clithering, a former Scotland Yard Commissioner.

Sir Henry is so impressed with Miss Marple's eerily unerring conclusions, that when he's next in St. Mary Mead, staying with his friends the Bantrys (who I'm sure must be in other Miss Marple stories, because they seemed very familiar), he asks them to invite Miss Marple for dinner. And of course, new stories are told over dinner.

The thirteenth story stands alone, and takes place during another visit of Sir Henry's to the village. There's been a tragic death and Miss Marple suddenly shows up, very agitated, and asks Sir Henry for help. She's sure the police are going after the wrong man.

This was a hugely fun book to read. Some of the cases are a bit far-fetched, of course, but I didn't really care. They're all quite clever and itneresting. And my favourite moments were always at the end, when Miss Marple goes off into seemingly completely irrelevant tangents about very mundane episodes that have happened in St. Mary Mead. You can just feel everyone else going "WTF? The poor dear's obviously gone batty" and then feeling quite chagrined when it becomes clear that she knows exactly what she's talking about.

I also loved the glimpses of the long-dead world in which they were set. It's very much a book of its time, so some of the portrayals of women, especially, made me cringe a little, but I chose to take it at face value and see it as a reflection of what that time was like.



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