The Thirteen Problems – Agatha Christie

I am beginning to think that Agatha Christie, in particular with her Miss Marple stories are actually some of the best crime novels for me. Invariably they are set in the 1930’s or 40’s when they were written which is a period that I love. They also seem to be the perfect match of an initial cosy crime caper that soon becomes something far much darker and as Miss Marple would say herself ‘full of wickedness’. ‘The Thirteen Problems’ seemed like a perfect read between everything else as being short stories of around ten pages each you can read them on the go, between another read, or just when you have ten minutes that need filling with a book.

The opening story of ‘The Thirteen Problems’ called ‘The Tuesday Night Club’ was originally the first published outing for Miss Marple and featured in The Royal Magazine in 1927 (the first Marple novel ‘Murder at the Vicarage’ wasn’t published till 1930) and introduced a collection of characters, including this slightly demure older lady, setting up a regular night when they can share tales of mystery that only they know the answer of and leaving the other members to solve the riddle. Well I think you might be able to guess who does the solving by simply applying human nature she has observed in the village of St Mary Mead. Agatha Christie then used ‘The Tuesday Night Club’ to create a further twelve stories that all interlink, though could easily be read separately and so this collection, which is more like an episodic novel (‘The Tuesday Club Murders’ in America) was formed and what a collection it is.

There are some straight forward murders in this novel, a few of your good old ‘manor house murders’ but what surprised me with this ‘The Thirteen Problems’ was that there is a rather supernatural streak through them. I am sure this was due to spirituality still gripping the nation when Agatha was writing. In fact Marple uses superstition to help someone she believes is going to be murdered at one point. None of them are ridiculous ghostly parodies, but because mysteries are just that people look for other explanations. Mediums appear a few times and the way Christie builds the plot and especially in the suspense creates the atmosphere we all know and love in a good ghostly tale. ‘The Bloodstained Pavement’ is a tale set by the idyllic seaside yet when a woman sees blood on the street no one else can local legend tells a murder will occur, and guess what it does and the missing blood is rather important. Yes, not easy to figure out I can assure you.

I loved every tale in this collection but my two favourites were the spookiest. ‘The Idol House of Astarte’ initially centres around a big house and then moves to the grounds where is it believed a shrine has been made for the goddess who it soon becomes apparent can possess people and make them do despicable things, or is something far more malevolent at work? ‘The Blue Geranium’ might be my very favourite though as a medium tells Mrs Pritchard that blue flowers will be the death of her. Strangely enough within weeks the flowers on her wall paper start to turn blue and yet she is the only one in the room over night and the only one with the key to get in, yet is this ghosts or is someone trying to kill her with fear?

I can’t remember where I saw the quote but someone somewhere has said that all the plots and short tales are so good that they could each have easily made a full novel and honestly that’s the truth. The fact Agatha Christie manages to grab you, hook you in, confuse you and then very easily explain what has baffled you in around twelve pages a time is quite something and the more I read of her the more I truly think that, bar Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, no one can better her for crime plotting. Many people mumble that she simply retells the same story over and over and yet having read quite a few of her stories I wouldn’t agree. There are a couple of tales in this collection where a husband bumps off a wife but the circumstances and indeed the murders are all completely different and the stories told in varying ways, with ‘A Christmas Tragedy’ you think you know who only Christie turns it all on its head, and again and again leaving you guessing.

A book that will: entertain and have you guessing either in greedy gulps or sneaky snippets. A perfect collection of short stories that anyone who loves a good mystery or thirteen should get there hands on. I think this shows just how much of a genius Agatha Christie really is. 10/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie – Miss Marple might be my very favourite of Agatha’s series of books but this stand alone novel  is another firm favourite and sees a slightly different style from Christie’s other books.
Agatha Christies Secret Notebooks by John Curran – reading this collection has made me want to reach for John Curran’s superb book on Agatha which collates her notebooks and plotting and really gets you into the mind of Christie.

I am still tempted by the Secret Notebooks but I have more than enough reading to be getting on with, maybe I could have an ‘Agatha April’ or something in 2011? So who else has read this collection? I am hoping there is someone else out there? If you haven’t then please do! Oh and on a slightly different tangent… this book has made me want to read some classic Victorian and early half of the 1900’s ghost stories, any recommendations?


Filed under Agatha Christie, Books of 2010, Harper Collins, Miss Marple, Review, Short Stories

20 responses to “The Thirteen Problems – Agatha Christie

  1. I love the Thirteen Problems and I have that exact copy. For early 1900’s ghost stories, have you read The Turn of the Screw? (well, it’s close, published in 1898)

  2. I’ve read this and everything else by Christie as I was obsessed with her novels as a teen. Have you read The Mysterious Mr. Quinn? It’s another short story collection by Christie with supernatural elements too. My favourite.

  3. Deb

    Are you familiar with Australian book blogger Kerrie Smith and her MYSTERIES IN PARADISE blog? One of her reading challanges is to read all of Agatha Christie’s published works (not surprisingly called “The Agatha Christie Reading Challenge”). She reports on her progress at regular intervals and anyone can join in the challenge at any time.

    • Yes I have been featured and linked to on Kerrie’s site before, she is a true Christie lover and I think what she is doing is marvellous. I dont know if I could do it all in one go that might be overkill though maybe not with Christie.

  4. I really must read some Christie that isn’t Poirot. I just tend to shy away from crime unless it’s Holmes (not from snobbishness but because it isn’t a genre that I fare too well with, especially modern crime hence not trying Sophie Hannah or Kate Atkinson’s crime series).

    As for Victorian ghost stories: it has to be The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Elizabeth Gaskell also has a volume of gothic tales, some of which are very good and I think you can NEVER go wrong with Poe (oh, I love his crime character, Dupin! Credited as first literary detective).

    • Ooooh Claire you are missing a treat with Atkinson its sooooooooooo much more than crime. Its like great characters and backgrounds that somehow interlink. Holmes is fabulous. I oddly dont like Poirot. I need to keep trying though I will crack him.

      I dont like the Turn of the Screw. I have read it twice and just don’t really get why its deemed so scary – though there was a face in the window scene mid way through that chilled me. I need to read Poe and Dupin.

  5. I only started reading Agatha Christie again this past spring. Not generally a fan of mysteries, I had taken against her for no rational reason, despite having devoured her books when I was younger. Then I read A Moving Finger and remembered how brilliant and entertaining she was! I’ll definitely have to try The Thirteen Problems soon!

    • The Moving Finger is the one that I will be reading next, am very much looking forward to it. People seem to sneer at Christie a little bit and I dont know why because shes genius. I wonder if its because they see her as someone they read as a teenager and then dont try again?

  6. I have and have read John Curran’s book. It was the sort of book to dip in and out of, not read in one sitting. There are some really interesting bits in their, stuff your average AC fan would not know.

    If memory serves me right, without getting the book off the shelf again – The Thirteen Problems is based on Herclues’s Labours? Or it could be a Poirot one which uses this bases.

    My mum has all the AC books, so next time I am over there I must check it out.

    • Yes it was a book you could read in dribs and drabs though I remember devouring some sections in quick succession.

      No idea about the Poirot link with The Thirteen Tales, dont remember that in Currans book either. Hmmm a mystery for me to try and solve I think.

  7. Savidge, would you be interested in hosting a spot on the Agatha Christie Blog Tour next month? There are a few spots available. Check the post at and just leave a comment there if oyu asre interested

  8. She

    Ahhh, Agatha Christie is rather fabulous, isn’t she? My grandpa gave me his collection of 1970s Christies and they have the best covers (not to mention awesome stories)! I remember The Man in the Brown Suit being my favorite…

    If you have an Agatha April I will totally join in.

    • She is indeed She. What is it about 1970’s editions of books, they always seem to be the best. Maybe its just a few of us who love the retro but I see more and more people saying how much they love them. I have never heard of The Man in the Brown Suit before, sounds like I should know it!

      Have seen we have a Miss Marple on tonight, but she wasnt in the book version of ‘The Pale Horse’ so I won’t be watching it, I dont like it when they throw Poirot or Marple in a story that isnt theirs!

  9. I loved The Thirteen Problems, they really show off Christie’s talent for tight plots. But I love basically anything by her, hehe :)My favorite is Cards on the Table.

    Please do an Agatha April! 🙂

  10. Pingback: The Moving Finger – Agatha Christie | Savidge Reads

  11. Georgia Erwin

    I was reading along to this and thinking, hmmm, sounds familiar…and then we got to The Blue Geranium and that! is the first story I ever read by Agatha Christie. I know I’m a little late to the conversation (just a few years, and oh how they fly!) but I thought I’d add that I think this collection is a particularly great way to start kids/young adults reading Christie.

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