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The Thirteen Problems
on 29 January 2006
In many ways “The Thirteen Problems” could be described as the archetypal Agatha Christie novel, featuring as it does 13 separate mysteries which are jam packed full off typical Christie characters.
In fact it’s sort of like a Christie novel within a Christie novel as the settings for the stories are in classic Christie style. For the first 6 mysteries we are a guest at the legendary Miss Marple’s house as she hosts 5 distinguished guests. There’s her nephew, the writer Raymond West and his fiancée the artist Joyce Lempriere. Then we have the staples of any Christie situation, Dr Pender the elderly clergyman and Mr Petherick, a solicitor. The party is rounded off by the ex-police commissioner Sir Henry Clithering.
For after dinner entertainment the guests decide to each tell a tale from personal experience where the outcome is either unknown or a puzzle to be solved. And so begins the first meeting of the Tuesday Night club as each guest retells his or her mysterious story. At first all the guests suppose that little Miss Marple, knitting quietly in the background, will either not play along or will be quite bemused by the goings-on. Little by little they must adjust their opinions of the white haired spinster as she correctly surmises what has happened each time.
The second set of 6 problems are again retold in an after dinner setting, but this time at a neighbour of Miss Marple’s, Col and Mrs Bantry. Whilst organising the dinner party Mrs Bantry asks Sir Henry who he’d like to invite and sensing another round of mystery fun Sit Henry asks for Miss Marple to be invited along. The other two members of the gathering are the famous and beautiful young actress Miss Jane Hillier and elderly Dr Lloyd. Again each member of the party regales their companions with a tale of suspense, murder and mystery.
The final problem is set in real time as once again Miss Marple tells Sir Henry that in the case of a recent murder the wrong man is about to be arrested and she implores him to step in and prevent a miscarriage of justice.
The problems themselves are interesting and intriguing and presented in a easy reading short story format, just right for reading one and then putting the book down for a while. The mysteries are by and large distinctive Christie-esque ranging from the fascinating to the border-ridiculous. The language is also typical Christie with many an insulting class reference but the talk of this bygone age is a delight to read. Fans of Christie will of course spot some plot constructions of some of the problems were expanded on into full novels, although certain elements were changed.
A highly recommended read for all.