#16 – The Thirteen Problems

This collection contains two sets of six tales where a circle of friends each recounts a mysterious happening  which the others then have to solve, plus a final stand-alone story.

At Miss Marple’s home (published December 1927 – May 1928)

1.The Tuesday Night Club – Sir Henry Clithering’s tale of a domestic poisoning.

2. The Idol House of Astarte – Dr Pender’s tale of a supernatural grove.

3. Ingots of Gold – Raymond West’s tale of treasure hunting in Cornwall.

4. The Bloodstained Pavement – Joyce Lemprière’s tale of a Cornish legend come to life.

5. Motive v Opportunity – Mr Petherick’s tale of a vanishing will.

6. The Thumb Mark of St Peter – Miss Marple’s tale of a death in the family.

At the Bantrys’ home (published December 1929 – May 1930)

7. The Blue Geranium – Colonel Bantry’s tale of the flowers of death.

8. The Companion – Dr Lloyd’s tale of drowning abroad.

9. The Four Suspects – Sir Henry Clithering’s tale of the revenge of the Black Hand.

10. A Christmas Tragedy – Miss Marple’s tale of three festive deaths.

11. The Herb of Death – Mrs Bantry’s tale of a poisoning at the manor house.

12. The Affair at the Bungalow – Jane Helier’s tale of a “friend” and a strange burglary.

Stand-alone  (published in November 1931)

13. Death by Drowning – Sir Henry Clithering investigates at Miss Marple’s behest.

I enjoy the format of these stories – where one person recounts something that has happened to them, questions are asked, theories are proposed and refuted, before a suitable solution is reached (an excellent example is Isaac Asimov’s “Tales of the Black Widowers” where the waiter Henry takes the role of Miss Marple). 1 and 2 have the neatest solutions to my mind, and two of the stories have elements that end up in a later novel.

“The Four Suspects” best demonstrates Miss Marple’s feeling for human nature when she differs from Sir Henry in her view of who is most damaged by being under unfair suspicion.

Nothing exceptional in this collection but given the relative lack of Miss Marple novels her short stories should be in more demand than Poirot’s.

Recurring character development

Miss Marple

Has a niece called Mabel.

Dislikes staying in other people’s houses.

Had a maid called Clara and later one called Ethel.

Has some plate and a King Charles tankard which are stored at the bank when she is away from home.

Has no truck with doctors and their medicines.

Had the text “Ask and you will receive” above her bed as a girl and always says a little prayer when she is in bad trouble.

Has her grandmother’s recipe for tansy tea.

Has done a little nursing.

Suffers from rheumatism.

Believes strongly in capital punishment.

Signs of the Times

Mrs Jones asks for a bowl of cornflour which ends up being drunk by Miss Clark (1). I can find no definitive answer as to what this is but when I googled ” a bowl of cornflour” the top results related to Agatha Christie readers asking the same question relating to the same story!

Miss Clark is “banting” (1). William Banting was a 19th century undertaker. He lost weight under the advice of William Harvey, who had learned from Frenchman Claude Bernard, by restricting the amount of carbohydrates in his diet, especially those of a starchy or sugary nature. He publicised his success in the 1863 pamphlet “Letter on Corpulence, Address to the Public”, hence banting became the term for following his method.

Diana Ashley was one of the beauties of the Season (2). The Season was the time of year when elite families lived in London, as opposed to on their country estates. This coincided with the sitting of Parliament and lasted from after Christmas until midsummer. It peaked during the 19th century and then declined after World War I.

Miss Marple refers to the marks of St Peter’s thumb on a haddock (6). A haddock has a dark oval mark below its dorsal fin. The legend is that this is where Peter held the fish when he took a coin from its mouth to pay the Temple tax (Matthew 17: 24-27).

The two English ladies would “see what they wished to see, assisted by Baedeker, and be blind to everything else” (8). Karl Baedeker (1801 – 1859) was a German publisher and pioneer in the field of travel guides. The brand is still in use today.

Miss Marple was staying at a Hydro (10). This is short for a Hydropathic Spa, where customers would be able to take the water-cure, a range of treatment using hot and cold water, thought to treat many ailments.

Miss Marple says that an Egyptologist can tell by feel whether a scarab is genuine or a Birmingham imitation (10).  The city of Birmingham has a long history of jewellery manufacturing, some of which was either shoddy or deliberately counterfeit, giving rise to the term “Brummagem ware” – Brummagem being a local dialect name for the city. The implication here is of a cheap copy.

Jane Helier is acting in “Smith” by Somerset Maugham (12). “Smith” is a 1909 comedy in four parts. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965) was a British playwright, novelist, and short story writer.

The expression “trying it on the dog” is used (12). This refers to refining a dramatic work, probably in a provincial location, before bringing it to a major stage e.g. London or New York.

Use of the word “pother” which could have been a typo for “bother” (13). Here it means a fuss or commotion.

Colonel Melchett believes that Sandford’s architectural style shows that he is a Bolshie i.e. Bolshevik, Communist (13).

References to previous works

Dr Haydock (The Murder at the Vicarage) has replaced Dr Lloyd by the time of the final story.

Vintage Reading Challenge

Published in the USA as “The Tuesday Club Murders” so fulfils “What – book published under more than one title”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “#16 – The Thirteen Problems”

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