“Unsolved mysteries.”

I keep thinking I’ve reviewed every Agatha Christie on here by this point, but given I started reading her four years before I started the blog, some have definitely slipped through the net. The second Miss Marple, The Thirteen Problems, is one of them. Time to rectify that.

On Tuesday evening, a group of acquaintances have come together and before long the conversation, as it so often seems to, turns to unsolved crimes. The group is diverse – a lawyer, a retired police officer, an artist, a writer, a priest, and a village gossip – and they ponder which of them has the better background for solving crime. Thus forms the Tuesday Night Club, where each member must share a mystery that they know of and the rest must try and solve it.

The thirteen riddles are certainly challenging. There’s the story of the woman who was told that a blue geranium would mean death, the girl poisoned by foxglove leaves accidentally mixed in with the sage stuffing, a case of disappearing bloodstains, and the case of the missing bullion from a shipwreck. With every puzzle, the armchair detectives are stumped. There is however one exception. Miss Marple, dismissed by the others at first for being a slow old woman who has rarely left her village, is the only person to correctly solve every single crime, always able to relate each case back to an incident of village life. Thus her capability is proven time and time again, in a couple of places even bringing justice herself.

Although the second Marple book, this is the one where we see what she is really capable of. She is a little cattier in the first, and readers could have been led to assume that her solving of the case was just a fluke. As with Poirot’s Early Cases, this establishes our hero as being a rank above everyone else when it comes to detection. Whereas Poirot is more interested in psychology, with Marple we see that she just has a good memory and that humans are, broadly speaking, more alike than they care to acknowledge. As she herself says, perhaps it’s better that people don’t realise this. While there is an underlying arc of the characters telling one another stories, they can each be read individually and don’t necessarily follow on.

Christie’s real skill here is in having the narrators all have their own way of telling the tale. One is very conscious to go into detail on the atmosphere of the crime’s location. Another is not a natural storyteller at all and, after giving the basics, answers questions from her companions instead. One tries to tell a tale about a friend that is actually about herself, and Marple herself is prone to going off on tangents that seem to serve no purpose at all.

Most of the stories would have worked as an extended novel, if you threw in more detail, but by condensing them, Christie once again shows that length isn’t everything, and you can have a perfectly serviceable mystery set up, deconstructed, twisted and solved within twenty pages. Few are capable of doing this well, and none better than she. A genius collection.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!