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?