Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Thirteen Problems – Agatha Christie

Short Stories 3*s
Short Stories
3*s

So after finally allowing Miss Marple into my life just last year with Murder at the Vicarage, I decided to try another book which featured this sharp, yet elderly spinster of St Mary Mead. What I didn’t quite appreciate was that The Thirteen Problems wasn’t really the second book in the series as denoted by Goodreads but a collection of linked, but essentially short stories, featuring the accidental detective.

The collection starts with The Tuesday Night club held at Miss Marple’s house where each of the six friends, including Miss Marpe’s nephew, Raymond West, the Vicar, Dr Pender, Former Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Henry Clithering, an artist, Joyce Lempriere and the solicitor Mr Petherick gather round while Miss Marple knits and they discuss a seemingly unsolvable problem which only they know the answer to. Amazingly, because I really doubt I could find one friend, let alone six, to come up with a mystery of this standard, they all have a story to tell.

Dr Henry Clithering kicks things off with a dastardly plot complete with poison where three people ate the poisoned food but only one died.

Raymond recounts his tale of Ingots of Gold complete with Cornish smugglers and a ship wreck.

Joyce’s tale is also set in Cornwall and features a missing woman and a mysterious puddle of blood on the pavement
Dr Pender recounts an odd fancy dress party where one of the guests is stabbed through the heart in front of witnesses but no-one knows how or where the weapon went.

The legal man Mr Petherick has a tale which involves spiritualists and a will made in their favour – another taxing mystery as who would want to alter a will made in their favour.

Miss Marple’s own tale is probably my favourite in the whole book and not only because it features poison but a play on words.

It is a whole year later before the second set of six mysteries are heard at a dinner party held by Colonal Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly in St Mary’s Mead. The dinner party also has Sir Henry Clithering in attendance along with, actress Jane Helier and Dr Lloyd ( a doctor of medicine this time) and of course Miss Marple herself.

Arthur Bantry has a spooky tale of mediums and ghosts appearing to an anxious woman in the Blue Geranuium
Dr Lloyd’s story is set in the glamorous location of Gran Canaria and a drowning he happened upon.

Sir Henry Clithering’s tale is in part philosophical on the harm of being a suspect with no way of proving your innocence. His tale had four men one of whom must have committed murder but with no obvious solution all remained suspects.

Spousal murder is Miss Marple’s contribution is set in a hydro spa where the sharp-eyed spinster is convinced murder is about to be committed but could she stop it in time?

More poison, this time from foxglove leaves from Dolly who recounted this domestic murder which seemed one that was likely to backfire onto the perpetrator.

The final dinner party story is from Jane Helier who tells a muddled tale of her ‘friend’ and a burgled bungalow that tends towards the preposterous. Even better Jane doesn’t have a solution but all becomes clear in Miss Marple’s whispered response to her problem.

Finally we have a lone tale where Miss Marple approaches Sir Henry Clithering some months later when he is visiting the Bantry’s again. This time the mystery is firmly local with a young girl having drowned whilst in the family way. Miss Marple is convinced it is murder and not suicide and needs Sir Henry to insert himself in the local police investigation to ensure justice is done.

There were some very clever stories in the mix but I have to be honest, I prefer a full length tale and thirteen murderous plots from a small number of people l began to feel a little contrived.

mount-tbr-2017
 

First Published UK: 1932
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages:  228
Genre: Short Stories
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

29 thoughts on “The Thirteen Problems – Agatha Christie

  1. thirteen murderous plots from a small number of people l began to feel a little contrived

    It’s a format with some history behind it, though — the “club story” collection/anthology. Of course the setup’s artificial, but it can be effective — try Chesterton’s The Club of Queer Trades,

    I loathe and abominate the Goodreads numbering system, which seems to reduce books to a sort of (excuse inadvertent pun) lowest common denominator. Yes, there are trilogies and the like where the reading order is important — The Lord of the Rings, ‘Arry, etc. — but in most instances series are made up of books that can happily be read as standalones . . . and, if not, there’s something wrong with them. Christie’s novels (although I’m not a huge fan) are a case in point. It’s perhaps useful t know if a novel is Poirot #1 or Marple #1, or if it’s one of the two “farewell” novels she gave them, one apiece, but that’s about it.

    And then you get imbecilities like Tey’s The Franchise Affair being pompously described as “Inspector Alan Grant #3” despite the fact that Grant barely appears in the book, being entirely peripheral to the plot. Tana French’s wonderfully individual novels are taken by the Goodreads mediocrity sausage machine and made part of the numbered “Dublin Murder Squad” series despite the fact that clearly she’s subverting the whole series idea. And so on.

    Me, these days I’m actively deterred from reading numbered “series” crime novels. With Golden Age novels it doesn’t matter — it makes absolutely no difference if you read Gideon Fell #15 before Gideon Fell #10 — and likewise with many modern series. Trouble with the latter is that, often, you don’t know if this is so until you’re halfway through the big fat “Horatio Thumbstrangler #3” and discover it’s incomprehensible unless you’ve read “Horatio Thumbstrangler #1” and “Horatio Thumbstrangler #2.” Safer just to avoid numbered series altogether, which is what I largely do. There are plenty of other books around.

    Sorry: venting.

    1. Sorry to have promoted a rant Realhog – as it happens this was just a book I had on my bookshelf that featured Miss Marple, I didn’t realise that it was short stories when I picked it up although that probably wouldn’t have deterred me anyway.
      Although I understand the history of the set-up for me it felt contrived and my reviews are far more about how a book makes me feel than perhaps more scholarly blogs and I do like re-reading the Agatha Christie novels (in any order) however to be honest I enjoyed this one a little less than her full length novels.

  2. I use http://www.fantasticfiction.com to look at what comes next in a series. I think that The Thirteen Problems was the second book published featuring Miss Marple, but this site has it split out as a collection of short stories, and lists The Body in the Library as book number 2. I’ve no idea how the site is put together, so it might not be perfect, but I’ve found it to be a useful resource 🙂

    1. Thanks for that Jo it sounds like a useful resource which I’ve now bookmarked. In this instance I wasn’t actually really bothered about reading these in order because I choose from the Agatha Christie books on my TBR and this was picked at random from the spreadsheet!! I seem to have sparked a bit of a debate though.

      1. Ah, no problem. I’ve not read any Miss Marple, but I would guess that these are similar to Poirot in that the books can (largely) be read as standalones.

  3. Sadly short stories are very much out of fashion at present as most modern readers prefer novels. I like both formats. As a budding writer, I appreciate how difficult it is to tell a compelling story with fewer words — the writing and plotting has to be much tighter. The difficulty is even greater in the case of crime stories, where plotting is so critical. It has been a few years since I read the Thirteen Problems, but I do remember enjoying them.

    1. Hi Honoria for me it isn’t a question of fashion but personal taste and as much as I admire the skill, personally I prefer a full-length novel works. The stories are very good although Jane Helier’s was disappointing although I can see it was inserted to show a different aspect to Miss Marple, which was clever.

  4. I’m glad you had a chance to read this one, Cleo. Some of the short stories really are nicely done, in my opinion. I think your discussion of short stories v novels is an interesting one. I enjoy reading both, truth be told. At the same time, I know a lot of people who have a preference for one or the other. They’re certainly different formats, and I respect authors who can do both.

    1. There were a few in the book that were superb, the first and the last stand out in particular and I have nothing but admiration for the ability to condense a puzzle into so few words but I’m just not a big fan.

  5. I totally agree, Cleo – both these and the Poirot shorts never do it for me anything like the novels do. It’s odd, because when she writes short stories that have nothing to do with her major ‘tecs, she’s really good at it – her horror collection The Hound of Death is brilliant! I also like her Tommy & Tuppence short stories, but they were working as private detectives at that point so it made sense for there to be separate stories. But on the whole I vastly prefer her novels.

  6. I enjoyed reading about your experience with the ‘Tuesday Club’ stories. I, also, am not a big short story reader, but I remember many of these and liked some more than others. I also can say that the audio of this one is good and I’m pretty sure that’s how I first ‘read’ these. Joan Hickson was the narrator and she did Miss Marple very well. I think there are no Marple stories that must be read in order of series, though I will say that A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY and NEMESIS have a loosely linked storyline. I love both of those.

    Fantastic Fiction is a good website that I’ve used for many years. I’ll also put in a plug for Stop You’re Killing Me! at http://www.stopyourekillingme.com/

    1. Some of the stories were excellent and most were really clever but I’m afraid if pushed I prefer a full length novel but that’s not to say there wasn’t much to entertain me with these stories.
      Love the Stop You’re Killing Me website – I’ve added it to my favourites.

  7. This one does sound disappointing, especially if you were expecting something different. I don’t really like short story collections, unless they are all from the same author…and someone I love. Thanks for sharing.

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