Notes On The Thirteen Problems

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1932

Motive for  Crimes: Jealousy, Fright, Identity and Wealth

Plot: Thirteen crimes told by different people in a group of six in the Tuesday Night Club at Miss Marple’ house and at the Bantrys’s near the village of St.Mary Mead. Then each offers their solution as to whodunit. Miss Marple scores most.

From the deadly supper at the Joneses to the superstitious Mrs. Pritchard; the creepy grove in Dartmoor to the drowning of a local girl, the elderly spinster beats a solicitor, an ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard and a doctor. Yet she gives up on one case. Why?

The thirteen problems (according to the book chapter):

  1. The Tuesday Night Club: Three people had a supper and one of them died.
  2. The Idol House of Astarte: A fancy dress party at a grove of trees in Dartmoor turned to be a murder scene (he was stabbed)
  3.  Ingots of Gold: The disappearance of Raymond West’s friend on a Whit Monday in Cornwall
  4. The Bloodstained Pavement:  an artist read the news about the drowning of a woman she met on holiday in a little village in Cornwall
  5. Motive vs Opportunity: A man with considerable wealth wished to leave money in his will for the American husband and wife psychic and therefore disinherited his next of kin
  6. The Thumb Mark of St. Peter: Rumour had it that Mabel Denman poisoned his husband.
  7. The Blue Geranium: Mrs. Pritchard allegedly died from fright after she received a letter saying that the Blue Geranium means Death.
  8. The Companion: the death of Amy Durrant, Mary Barton’s companion,  in Canary Islands
  9. The Four Suspects: An elderly German who sought political asylum in Britain was pushed off the stairs and killed in his home. Four people were around the house on that day: his niece Greta, Dobbs the gardener, his assistant Gertrud and his secretary Charles Templeton(police cover)
  10. A Christmas Tragedy: Miss Marple read a husband’s face who planned a plot to kill his wife for insurance money  in a Spa
  11. The Herb of Death: Foxgloves leaves, planned near to Sage, was picked and mixed with the herb in a Turkey filling for dinner. A girl dies as a result.

    Sage leaves; planted next to Foxgloves and both can be picked and mixed up.

  12. The Affair At The Bungalow: A burglary in an actress’s house revealed her scandal with a high-profile married man
  13. Death By Drowning: Emmot’s Daughter was drowned

Clues:

  1. Hundreds and thousands on a trifle at the supper
  2. One of the fancy dress participants wears a brigand chief costum
  3. A gardener does not work on a Whit Monday
  4. The tale of the landlord of Polharwith Arms killed by a Spanish captain’s sword and that the landlord’s bloodstain on the pavement cannot be washed out for a hundred years
  5. Miss Marple said, “It is a catch!And so is Mr. Petherick’s story a catch. So like a lawyer!”
  6. Geoffrey Denman was heard saying “something about fish or a heap of fish” by the cook and the housemaid before he died
  7. The appearance of Zarida, a psychic for Mrs. Pritchard who warned her client of “evil and danger in the house”
  8. Mary Barton appeared to grow fatter in a fortnight (before seeing leaving the island)
  9. The German man was seen throwing a letter with a foreign stamp he received in the morning
  10. Mrs. Sanders’s hat was on the side of her head when the police came on the murder scene whereas before it was on her head when her body was found for the first time by her husband and Miss Marple.
  11. Sir Ambrose had a heart problem and therefore has been prescribed with digitalin (Foxgloves also contains digitalin)
  12. Miss Marple: “I can’t help feeling that there was some- well, what I must describe as personal feeling about the whole thing.”
  13. Emmot’s daughter was expecting and she went out with Sandfrod, an architect

The Twists:

  1. “Hundreds and thousands” written in a letter and a trifle in the supper
  2. The tale of Astarte
  3. A crime gang scheme to bury bars of gold
  4. Blood dripping from the red dress hung over a balcony, which the artist saw as bloodstains on the pavement
  5. Evanescent ink used to write the will
  6. Geoffrey Denman’s father eyedrops containing atropine sulphate
  7. The pink primrose in the garden-theme wallpaper in Mrs. Pritchard’s room turned blue
  8. Mary Barton’s body was never found in Cornwall
  9. honesty was written with capital “H” in the letter
  10. The housemaid’s body was laid to rest in her room two doors away from the Sanders’s
  11. An old man’s jealousy towards the engagement of his ward
  12. Miss Marple failed to give the correct answer in front of everyone
  13. Jimmy Brown, a twelve-year-old boy, saw two men with a wheelbarrow on the river path amidst the mist and being in the dusk

Highlights:

Imagine Christie was smiling to herself as she tweaked some parts in the manner of a good cook who had agreed to the taste of a dish and yet adding a splash of olive oil or a sprinkle of sugar to enliven it.

Miss Marple appears for the second time after Christie introduced her in The Murder At The Vicarage (1930).She is acquainted with Sir Henry Clithering, the ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard, who is not in the least impressed at first with her referring various cases happen in her small village. Interestingly, his godson’s path crosses with the woman much later on in 4.50 From Paddington- twenty five years later to be precise. And therefore it is worth noticing the interaction between the two whereby in the end they establish mutual respect to one another.

Furthermore, there is Raymond West, Miss Marple’s nephew, who starts the Tuesday Night Club. In Thirteen Problems he is a writer who falls into a trap of a crime gang plot, whereas in 4.50 From Paddington his collection of maps helps her aunt locate a woman’s body who is seen strangled on the train by Elspeth GilliMcCuddy.

Miss Marple’s reference of having “a mind like a sink” in both novels is amusing. Indeed it gives her a voice, as well as her wearing black lace mittens and bringing her knitting bag everywhere.

Just as an experienced cook, the authoress uses some basic ingredients in a cuisine to prepare different meals. First, in one of the “problems” an unscrupulous nurse may remind readers to Sad Cypress. Second, the actress Jane Helier has a touch of Jane Wilkinson’s manner (Lord Edgware Dies), of whom most everyone –but Miss Marple- thinks her a no brainer. Thirdly, the Bloodstained Pavement case is quite similar to a clever plot the murderers have in Evil Under The Sun (1941) although the circumstances of the murders are quite  different. In the former novel the victim is murdered beforehand whereas in the latter it is the opposite. Besides, there is a “red” reference. In Evil Under The Sun is a scarlet woman Arlene Marshall whilst in The Thirteen Problems Joyce Lempriere thinks she has a hallucination when she sees drips of blood on the pavement while painting. For it turns out to be a red dress with the victim’s blood on it hung in the balcony by the murderer! Lastly, there is Mary, the housemaid at the Hydro Spa who dies from a septic finger -albeit undeliberate. Add a cat’s wound and somebody is also killed from his septic wound in Murder Is Easy.

Honesty with capital “H”; a clue in the Four Suspects Case.

My most favourite case is The Four Suspects (the ninth one) owing to the letters received by the suspects and the victim. For one of them is a death warrant concealed in a language of flowers. Not only is it a touch of genius on Christie’s part but also  makes readers realise to whom a letter will appeal to – if a certain sex is associated with their knowledge on plants.

Another letter is written with common grammatical errors made by German speakers of English. Christie’s accuracy in highlighting them is outstanding, such as the habit of adding “s” after an infinitive and wrong word orders.

An illustration for a passport photograph of an English woman. On the right  is Virginia Woolf’s, stamped by Foreign Office in 1923. Does she look like any other English woman in their early forties?

In The Companion’s case, Miss Marple hints that an English woman’s look of a certain age is so like another. ‘I don’t suppose the different photograph on her passport was ever noticed – you know what passports are…’ she said. Is it? It is fascinating then should a woman, having altered her hair style or make-up,  could travel abroad with another woman’s identity.  Lucky? Because of the doubt I have decided to lower my rating to four out of five. It does bother me because the murderer then goes scot free.

What I enjoy most is the banters among the characters and the dynamics shown in the groups are marvellous. I also appreciate the gradual change in the characters along the way. Still, there is the twist in the end. Miss Marple knows who the murderer is no sooner has a girl in the village died from drowning. Having no proof, she makes a plea to Sir Henry Clithering to bring someone to justice.  Will he believe her?

Finally, is it just me or does anyone here wonder as to why the parish priest is Dr. Pender, not Mr. Clement? Did he resign the post after ColonelProtheroe’s death at his study?

Cast of Characters:

1. The Tuesday Night Club at Miss Marple’s house:

-Sir Henry Clithering (ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard)

-Jane Marple (the host)

-Joyce Lempriere (an artist)

-Mr. Petherick (a lawyer)

-Dr. Pender (the clergyman at St. Mary Mead parish church)

-Raymond West (Miss Marple’s nephew and a writer)

2. At the Bantrys’s:

-Colonel Arthur Bantry (the host)

-Dolly Bantry (Colonel Arthur’s wife)

-Sir Henry Clithering (ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard)

-Jane Helier (an actress)

-Jane Marple

-Dr. Llyod (a doctor at St. Mary Mead)

The Most Fascinating Character: Jane Helier

She appears halfway when another group at Colonel Arthur Bantry’s home is formed a year after the previous one in Miss Marple’s house. Described as “the beautiful and popular actress”, she is somehow vague and makes unintelligent remarks to every case uttered. She does not offer her solution and admits she has not got any. Nonetheless, she is polite and hardly speaks ill to anyone. As a result, others tend to treat her kindly; an unreliable voice who is out of place.

It is not clear whether her presence is due her being a friend of the Bantrys or invited by Sir Henry Clithering. When it comes to her turn telling a most strange case, everyone knows that it is not about someone she knows but what does really happen to the actress herself.

At the end of it, when Helier stops and the five of them then gazes at Miss Marple for the answer, she surprisingly says that she has had no idea in the least. The group is dismissed and Jane Helier’s case is declared as the winner.

But before Miss Marple leaves, she approaches Helier and whispers to her: ‘I shouldn’t do it if I were you, my dear. Never put yourself too much in another woman’s power, even if you do think she’s your friend at the moment.’

Readers, do you remember what Miss Marple means? (please, do not shout your answer in the comment).

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2 thoughts on “Notes On The Thirteen Problems

  1. this is my favorite maple book. i agree that bit about women look like each other is somehow far-fetched, but overall i’d rate this not less than 4.5/5

  2. Thank you very much. This is also one of my favourite books of Christie’s. what I like most is her subtle jokes about men; how Sir Henry bows to her views. Perhaps I give fewer stars than yours as Miss Marple’s Final Cases is equally intriguing. Have you read it yet?

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