The Thirteen Problems

The Thirteen ProblemsThe Thirteen Problems
by Agatha Christie
Rating: ★★★★½
Series: The Agatha Christie Collection #
Publication Date: September 2, 2002
Pages: 201
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Agatha Christie Ltd/Planet Three Publishing

Thirteen short stories of unsolved crimes, solved by Miss Marple.


I (re)read this book for two reasons:  I belong to a group reading Agatha Christie’s oeuvre in order of publication, and it fit a Halloween Bingo prompt – 13.  Either one of those reasons would have been a good enough excuse to read this charming little collection of Miss Marple showing everyone up.

13 short stories: the first 6 of which share a common tie of being stories told at the Tuesday Night Club, an impromptu gathering where each person tells the tale of a mystery that went unsolved at the time.  The next 6 stories are tied together in a similar way, as stories all told around the dining table one evening.  The last story is a ‘stand-alone’ although it relies on the friendship established in the previous stories between Miss Marple and Sir Henry Clithering.

Without exception, each story is excellent.  Some are more excellent than others; in my opinion, The Blue Geranium is the absolute stand-out, though Motive vs Opportunity comes close.  The weakest was probably the last, for me, Death by Drowning.  It’s solid, but in comparison, duller than the previous 12 stories.

I have a confession to make about Agatha Christie’s books:  I dislike both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.  I find that in the longer books Miss Marple tends to natter on a bit too much and plays the “old spinster” and “aww shucks” hands a little too strongly.  Hercule Poirot is just … an amalgamation of the worst traits of Holmes and Dupin is as close I can come to a description.  I don’t find him as comical as most.

However, these short stories offer the perfect dose of Miss Marple: for almost all the stories, her participation is relegated to the end, so the simpering is contained.  I also really tried, while reading these, to re-imagine Miss Marple in my mind by remembering the subjectivity of the descriptor ‘old’ and the stereotype of ‘spinster’.  Yes, Miss Marple has white hair and knits, but I know many a 50-60 year old that has white hair and knits.  I don’t recall her age ever being mentioned in the books I’ve read so far, so perhaps I dislike Miss Marple because of popular portrayals, combined with current attitudes about the adjectives that Christie used 100 years ago, when they covered broader spectrums.

I was partially successful; it was a struggle.  Ingrained conceptions die hard.  Fortunately I have a lot of books ahead of me to use for mental re-programming.  Now if only I could figure out a way to like Poirot…

As I mentioned, I read this for Halloween Bingo 2020 to fit the 13 square.

5 thoughts on “The Thirteen Problems”

  1. I have yet to find a Marple story whe doesn’t get on my nerves. Simpering is a good description, but there is something else about it too. In some ways it is the gold standard of that subservient type of behaviour that tries to convince her audience that she’s not trying to undermine whoever she is talking to – while absolutely doing it. I find this very condescending.
    She also drives me nut because she just will not get to the point.

    1. I kept wanting to call it condescending when I was writing this up, but couldn’t quite explain to myself why I thought so – thank you for saying it.

      The ‘nattering’ as I call it, is also a problem for me, although in these stories she didn’t have a chance to really get going -chiefly why I liked this collection more than I generally like the full-length novels.

      You know what? It strikes me as I write this that Miss Marple has serious passive-aggressive tendencies. Hmm…

        1. True, but Poirot takes himself so seriously, so even though I can mock and tease him, there’s still a voice inside my head that’s yelling ‘you arrogant little twit!’.

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