The Thirteen Problems is a short story collection written by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by Collins Crime Club in June 1932 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1933 under the title The Tuesday Club Murders. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00. The thirteen stories feature her detective Miss Marple and feature the earliest stories she wrote about the detective.
- 1 Synopsis
- 2 The Short Stories
- 3 Literary significance and reception
- 4 References or allusions
- 5 Publication history
- 6 International titles
- 7 References
As in some of her other short story collections (e.g. Partners in Crime), Christie employs an overarching narrative, making the book more like an episodic novel. There are three sets of narrative, though they themselves interrelate. The first set of six are stories told by the Tuesday Night Club, a random gathering of people at the house of Miss Marple. Each week the group tell thrilling tales of mystery, which are always solved by Miss Marple, from the comfort of her armchair.The others in her company are dumbstuck as to how Miss Marple manages to solve each and every mystery by relating them some or the other incident from her own small village. One of the guests is Sir Henry Clithering, an ex-commissioner of Scotland Yard, and this allows Christie to resolve the story, with him usually pointing out that the criminals were caught. The next set of six occur as part of a dinner party Miss Marple is invited to at the request of Sir Henry Clithering, as a result of her skill in the Tuesday Night Club. This employs a similar guessing game, and once more Miss Marple triumphs. The thirteenth story, Death by Drowning takes place some time after the dinner party when Miss Marple finds out that Clithering is staying in St. Mary Mead and asks him to help in the investigation surrounding the death of a girl in the village.
The Short Stories
The collection comprises 13 short stories in the format of an episodic novel. The first six are narrated by a group friends who gather each Tuesday in St. Mary Mead and take turns to present a mystery for the others to solve. The next six follow the same format but are presented by a group of participants at a dinner party. The final story is a stand alone case. Only Sir Henry Clithering and Miss Marple are present in all 13 stories.
- The Tuesday Night Club
- The Idol House of Astarte
- Ingots of Gold
- The Blood-Stained Pavement
- Motive v. Opportunity
- The Thumb Mark of St. Peter
- The Blue Geranium
- The Companion
- The Four Suspects
- A Christmas Tragedy
- The Herb of Death
- The Affair at the Bungalow
- Death by Drowning
Literary significance and reception
The Times Literary Supplement of September 8, 1932 stated, "It is easy to invent an improbable detective, like this elderly spinster who has spent all her life in one village, but by no means so easy to make her detections plausible. Sometimes Miss Marple comes dangerously near those detectives with a remarkable and almost superhuman intuition who solve every mystery as if they knew the answer beforehand, but this is not often and Mrs. Christie shows great skill in adapting her problems so that she can find analogies in Miss Marple's surroundings." The review concluded that "in general these are all problems to try the intellect rather than the nerves of the reader."
Isaac Anderson in The New York Times Book Review's issue of March 5, 1933 said, "The stories are slight in structure, but they present some very pretty problems and introduce us to some truly interesting people. Miss Marple...is in a class by herself. She does not call herself a detective, but she could give almost any of the regular sleuths cards and spades and beat him at his own game."
The Scotsman of June 6, 1932 said, "The stories are worthy alike of Mrs Christie's powers of invention, and of the 'Crime Club' series in which they are issued."
The Daily Mirror of June 13, 1932 said, "The plots are so good that one marvels at the prodigality which has been displayed, as most of them would have made a full-length thriller."
Robert Barnard: "Early Marple, in which she solves cases described by other amateur and professional murder buffs gathered in an ad hoc club. Some engaging stories, but the sedentary format (cf. Orczy's The Old Man in the Corner stories) becomes monotonous over the book length. Contains one of Christie's few excursions into the working class, Death by Drowning."
References or allusions
References to other works
- In both A Christmas Tragedy and The Herb of Death, Sir Henry Clithering teasingly calls Mrs Bantry "Scheherazade", the legendary storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights.
References to actual history, geography and current science
- Serpent's Rock, referred to in Ingots of Gold is undoubtedly based on The Lizard. The village of Polperran could be any of the local coastal villages, such as Porthleven, as the area has a long history of smuggling and shipwrecks although Christie's name is wordplay on the name of Polperro which is further east up the coast from The Lizard.
- The second Cornish story in the collection, The Bloodstained Pavement, has a much more recognisable locale in the village of Mousehole, comically renamed "Rathole" in Christie's narrative (the fictional village is also referenced in Ingots of Gold). The pub in the story, the Polharwith Arms, is in reality the Keigwin Arms, which, like its fictional counterpart, survived destruction by the Spanish in 1595.
- 1932, Collins Crime Club (London), June 1932, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1933, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1933, Hardcover, 253 pp
- 1943, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, (Dell number 8)
- 1953, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 929), 224 pp (under slightly revised title of Miss Marple and the Thirteen Problems)
- 1958, Avon Books (New York), Paperback (Avon number T245)
- 1961, Pan Books, Paperback (Great Pan G472), 186 pp
- 1963, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1965, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1968, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 207 pp ISBN 0-85456-475-6
- 1972, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 222 pp
- 1973, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 222 pp
- 2005, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1932 UK first edition), September 12, 2005, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-720843-X
First publication of stories
All but one of the stories (the exception being The Four Suspects) first appeared in the UK in monthly fiction magazines.
The first sequence of six stories appeared in The Royal Magazine with illustrations for all the installments by Gilbert Wilkinson as follows:
- The Tuesday Night Club - first published in issue 350 in December 1927.
- The Idol House of Astarte - first published in issue 351 in January 1928.
- Ingots of Gold - first published in issue 352 in February 1928
- The Blood-Stained Pavement - first published in issue 353 in March 1928.
- Motive versus Opportunity - first published in issue 354 in April 1928.
- The Thumb Mark of St. Peter - first published in issue 355 in May 1928.
After eighteen months, the second sequence of stories appeared in a slightly differing order to the book collection and un-illustrated in The Story-Teller Magazine as follows:
- The Blue Geranium - first published in issue 272 in December 1929.
- A Christmas Tragedy - first published under the alternative title of The Hat and the Alibi in issue 273 in January 1930.
- The Companion - first published under the alternative title of The Resurrection of Amy Durrant in issue 274 in February 1930.
- The Herb of Death - first published in issue 275 in March 1930.
- The Four Suspects - first published in issue 276 in April 1930.
- The Affair at the Bungalow - first published in issue 277 in May 1930.
The final story in the book, Death by Drowning, was first published in issue 462 of Nash's Pall Mall Magazine in November 1931 with illustrations by J.A. May.
In the US, the first six stories appeared in Detective Story Magazine in 1928 with uncredited illustrations as follows:
- The Tuesday Night Club - first published in Volume 101, Number 5 on June 2 under the title The Solving Six.
- The Idol House of Astarte - first published in Volume 101, Number 6 on June 9 under the title The Solving Six and the Evil Hour.
- Ingots of Gold - first published in Volume 102, Number 1 on June 16 under the title The Solving Six and the Golden Grave.
- The Blood-Stained Pavement - first published in Volume 102, Number 2 on June 23 under the title Drip! Drip!
- Motive versus Opportunity - first published in Volume 102, Number 3 on June 30 under the title Where's the Catch?
- The Thumb Mark of St. Peter - first published in Volume 102, Number 4 on July 7 under its original title.
In addition, The Four Suspects received its first true publication in the US in the January 1930 issue (Volume 31, Number 4) of Pictorial Review. The same magazine also printed The Blue Geranium in February 1930 (Volume 31, Number 5) and The Companion in March 1930 (Volume 31, Number 6) under the slightly revised title of Companions. These three installments were illustrated by De Alton Valentine.
The Tuesday Night Club short story received its first book publication in the anthology The Best Detective Stories of the Year 1928, edited by Ronald Knox and H. Harrington and published in the UK by Faber and Faber in 1929 and in the US by Horace Liveright in the same year under the slightly amended title of The Best English Detective Stories of 1928.
The dedication of the book reads:
"To Leonard and Katharine Woolley"
Leonard Woolley (1880-1960), knighted in 1935, was a famous British archaeologist who was in the middle of several seasons excavating the ancient city of Ur when he and his wife Katharine (1888-1945) met Christie in 1928. She was on a solo trip to the Middle East following the painful divorce from her first husband, Archibald Christie. Having read in the Illustrated London News about the progress of the dig she made a visit there and, unusually for the Woolley's, was made welcome. This special treatment was entirely due to Katharine's admiration for Christie's 1926 novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The situation was further unusual in that Katharine was not a woman that other women found easy to get on with. Incredibly self-centred and difficult, she preferred to surround herself with men who she then expected would accede to her demands and whims, such as brushing her hair or walking miles to purchase her favourite confectionery which she would then eat in one sitting, making her sick. She was described by Gertrude Bell as "dangerous". Her marriage to Leonard was a second marriage for her, her first husband having committed suicide within six months of the marriage in 1919. Christie met her second husband, Max Mallowan, on their dig in 1930 when she returned there, having formed a somewhat fragile relationship with the Woolleys. Max and Agatha's romance required very careful handling as far as the Woolleys were concerned as they could easily have damaged Max's career. They accepted the news of the engagement but made Max work to the last moment before the wedding and refused to allow Agatha to travel with Max to the dig the first season after their marriage as they had a rule that wives were not allowed. Fortunately, it was Max's last dig with the Woolleys. Christie refers to this incident in Death in the Clouds (1935) and even more pointedly based the character of the unstable Louise Leidner in Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) on Katharine.
The blurb on the inside flap of the dustjacket of the first edition (which is also repeated opposite the title page) reads:
"The appearance of Miss Marple in The Murder at the Vicarage provided detective fiction with a new and distinctive character. Miss Marple, that delightfully clever village spinster who solves the most amazing mysteries quietly and unobtrusively from her chair by the fireside, appears in each of the stories comprising The Thirteen Problems. Each story is a little masterpiece of detection, clever and ingenious, with just that added twist that only Agatha Christie can give."
- German: Der Dienstagabend-Klub (The Tuesday's Evening Club)
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 14)
- John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction - the collector's guide: Second Edition (Pages 82 and 87) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- The Times Literary Supplement September 8, 1932 (Page 625)
- The New York Times Book Review March 5, 1933 (Page 14)
- The Scotsman June 6, 1932 (Page 2)
- Daily Mirror June 13, 1932 (Page 17)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie - Revised edition (Page 207). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3
- Morgan, Janet. Agatha Christie, A Biography. (Pages 171-172) Collins, 1984 ISBN 0-00-216330-6
- Morgan. (Page 172).
- Thompson, Laura. Agatha Christie, An English Mystery. (Page 285) Headline, 2007 ISBN 978-0-7553-1487-4
- Thompson. (Pages 298-299).
- Morgan. (Page 210).