Book Review – The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie

books, reviews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I had a pretty good Saturday all in all. I didn’t do anything exciting. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was sorting out books that I need to unhaul and get rid of old Instagram props that I no longer use. What made it better was listening to Agatha Christie’s The Thirteen Problems as I did it. Although, the production wasn’t that great. I know a lot of people prefer Joan Hickson’s narration but I get a bit tired of it. She doesn’t really differentiate between characters and I find that really irritating. You have to pay closer attention to who is talking and, in book like this, it’s important to know who is talking.

I like Miss Marple stories because I think she’s quite a fascinating character. When I was younger I preferred her to Hercule Poirot. Nowadays, I’m more of a Poirot girl and I tend to find Jane a little harder to take. Her stories are too easily distracted by less important storylines and characters. They just seem to take a bit longer than they need to and the final reveals are never quite as dramatic as Christie’s other novels. So, I tend to prefer short stories for her character. It means you cut out all of the nonsense and get to the good bit. The good bit being Miss Marple absolutely stunning everyone who underestimates her. The fact that an old lady has so much experience of human nature that she can see things other people miss. It is in the short story form that Miss Marple really flies off the page.

Perhaps the reason that I really enjoy The Thirteen Problems so much. It’s Miss Marple doing her thing without spending too long doddering. For this short story collection, Agatha Christie ties the stories together with an overarching narrative to give the book an episodic feel. It all starts at the home of Miss Marple and a gathering of random people. The assembled group all profess an interest in crime-solving and begin to play a game. Each of the people present tells the story of a tricky crime that only they know the answer to. Though she is overlooked by everyone else, it is Jane alone who can solve each crime. This leads to the second part of the narrative when Miss Marple is invited to a dinner party. Her unique talents are mentioned and a further 6 crimes are presented to her. Once again, she finds the solution every time. The final tale takes place sometime later when Miss Marple asks for help in getting the right person arrested for murder.

The short story form doesn’t just work for the character. Each episode presents the facts of each case in such a way that makes it easy for the reader to look at the crime. You can play along with the game because you get all of the facts in one go. There is no additional evidence to come out of the woodwork and no real red herrings to put you off. Obviously, they aren’t all straightforward and some stories are easier to figure out than others. Still, there is plenty of fun to be had here. It’s also a good insight into how Christie works out her crimes when she was writing her novels. Miss Marple’s explanations always go into the human nature side and psychology.

If you’re reading this in one go, it might get quite tedious listening to Miss Marple constantly link every crime to the people in her village. It makes for interesting reading but, after multiple examples, it starts to lose its impact. Still, Christie makes some good points about understanding people and picking up on little trivialities. Miss Marple notices things that the police missed without having to see any of the evidence. It might seem unrealistic and even inhuman but it all makes perfect sense once the solution has been revealed. Of the 13 stories, there aren’t any terrible ones among the bunch, but some do tread familiar ground. They aren’t particularly grizzly or disturbing stories. Instead, they are fun little puzzles for the reader to dive into. Short little head-scratchers that Miss Marple is patiently waiting to solve. This is one of the best Miss Marple books and is a quick little read for anyone looking to get into Agatha Christie.

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