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Literature / The Thirteen Problems

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The Thirteen Problems, also known as The Tuesday Club Murders, is a mystery short story collection by Agatha Christie, featuring the first canonical appearance of Miss Marple. Although The Thirteen Problems was published as a collection in 1932 - a year after the first Marple novel Murder At The Vicarage - the individual short stories had been published separately beforehand in magazines between 1927 and 1931.


Miss Marple hosts a gathering of six friends including her nephew Raymond West and ex-Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Henry Clithering. Raymond kicks off a conversation about unsolved mysteries, which leads to numerous members of the group claiming that their professions and situations make them ideally suited to solving crime. Artist Joyce Lemprière suggests that the group form a club that will meet every Tuesday night, with the members taking turns to tell a real-life mystery story and the others attempting to guess the solution. This is the Framing Device for the first six stories in the collection.

One year later, Sir Henry Clithering is staying with Colonal Arthur and Mrs. Dolly Bantry; asked to suggest a sixth dinner guest, he recommends Miss Marple, citing her brilliant success in solving the mysteries of the previous year. She arrives along with Dr. Lloyd and an actress called Jane Helier. The Bantrys and their guests then take turns to tell real mysteries and attempt to guess each other's, covering the next six stories.


The final story takes place some time later, when news of a death reaches Sir Henry as he is staying once again with the Bantrys. He receives a visit from Miss Marple, who is sure of who the culprit is, but needs his assistance in unmasking them.

The thirteen stories are as follows:

  1. The Tuesday Night Club
  2. The Idol House of Astarte
  3. Ingots of Gold
  4. The Blood-Stained Pavement
  5. Motive v. Opportunity
  6. The Thumb Mark of St. Peter
  7. The Blue Geranium
  8. The Companion
  9. The Four Suspects
  10. A Christmas Tragedy
  11. The Herb of Death
  12. The Affair at the Bungalow
  13. Death by Drowning

"The Blue Geranium" was adapted for an episode of the ITV series Marple in 2010.


The Thirteen Problems contains examples of:

  • All First-Person Narrators Write Like Novelists: Most of the stories in the collection, told by different members of Miss Marple's circle, except the last three: "The Herb of Death", narrated by Mrs Bantry, mostly consisting of the others asking questions in order to get any detail at all; "The Affair at the Bungalow", narrated by Jane Helier who needs a lot of help to get the story straight; and "Death by Drowning" has no first-person narrator.
  • The Bluebeard: The villain from "The Blood-Stained Pavement" serially marries and murders young women for the money from their life-insurance policies.
  • Brainless Beauty: Jane Helier is a beautiful young actress who appears quite vacuous in her conversations. When it comes time for her to tell her story, she tells it in a very scattered manner, with a futilely transparent attempt to pass it off as a story about a "friend" when it is really about her, and having to rely on Sir Henry to provide pseudonyms for all the characters and places involved. It's therefore a surprise when we find out that she is telling a story about a crime that she is planning, as a Trial Balloon Question. This explains why her narration is so scattered: she has no memories to draw on.
  • Clear Their Name:
    • In "The Thumb Mark of St. Peter", Miss Marple is partly motivated by the desire to clear her niece, Mabel, of poisoning her husband. Mabel is not formally a suspect, but her life is being ruined by gossip.
    • Similarly, in "The Four Suspects", Sir Henry is anxious to clear the names of the innocent parties.
  • Closed Circle: "The Four Suspects", as the name implies. The murder takes place in an isolated house, where only the victim's niece, his secretary, his faithful servant and his gardener could have done it.
  • Faking the Dead: In "The Companion", the killer takes on a false identity to become the companion of a rich relative, then drowns her employer at sea and takes her identity, and sometime later, fakes the suicide of the rich relative. Her motive is inheritance for her poor, chronically ill younger siblings.
  • Flower Motifs:
    • In "The Blue Geranium", Mrs. Pritchard is warned that "The blue primrose means warning, the blue hollyhock means danger, the blue geranium means death." The corresponding flowers on her wallpaper then proceed to turn blue, one at a time, and she is killed when the blue geranium appears. The colour-changing trick was achieved with litmus paper.
    • In "The Four Suspects", a German secret society sends a letter (signed Georgine) to the household of Dr. Rosen, whom they wish to kill. Miss Marple notices that several letters (names that are also various types of dahlia) are capitalized to spell DEATH, meaning The Mole read the letter and knew it was time to strike. She further adds that Georgine is German for "dahlia", and that they signify treachery in the language of flowers.
  • Foreshadowing: Jane Helier's initial attempt to conceal the fact that she herself is the subject of her story, "The Affair at the Bungalow", foreshadows her concealment of the fact that she herself is the mastermind of the crime she's describing - though it is just a plan and has not yet been committed.
  • Framing Device: Most of the stories are linked by an overarching narrative of two different (overlapping) groups of people taking turns to tell each other real-life mysteries that happened to them.
  • Fright Deathtrap: In "The Blue Geranium", Mrs. Pritchard is told by her fortune teller: "Beware the full moon. The blue primrose means warning, the blue hollyhock means danger, the blue geranium means death." At the next full moon, one of the primroses on her wallpaper turns blue, and at the full moon after that, one of the hollyhocks turns blue. She dies of a heart attack on the night of the third full moon, with the implication being that she was frightened to death by the threat. She was actually poisoned by her nurse, who switched her bottle of smelling salts with cyanide crystals. The nurse set up the motif of the blue flowers as camouflage.
  • Give Me a Sign: In "The Thumb Mark of St. Peter", Miss Marple prays for a sign, and shuts her eyes. When she opens them again, she sees the front of a fishmonger's shop, with a fresh haddock in the window, covered with the black spots (the titular "thumb mark".) This leads her to figure out that the murder victim's apparent dying reference to a "pile of carp" was actually "pilocarpine", known as an antidote to atropine poisoning - thus implicating the man's father as the killer, since he had a store of atropine which he took for his bad eyesight.
  • Hidden Depths: "The Affair at the Bungalow" reveals that Jane Helier isn't as dumb as she previously seemed to be; she was smart enough to devise a complex plan and tell it to the group as something that had already happened to see if Miss Marple could figure it out.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: "The Idol House of Astarte" implies that someone (unidentified) from Captain Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1911-12 had committed murder back in England.
  • I Have This Friend...: Jane Helier narrates a strange thing that had happened to a "friend" of hers. Everyone at the party immediately assumes this trope, figuring that it was something that had happened to Jane herself. They were half-right. Jane was the actress in the story, but it wasn't about something that had happened to her, but something she was going to do. She was planning to commit the crime described, and her story was a Trial Balloon Question to see if Miss Marple could figure it out.
  • If I Can't Have You...: In "The Herb of Death", Sir Ambrose murders his ward Sylvia to stop her from getting married, because he wants her for himself.
  • The Ingenue: Male example; Joe Ellis from "Death by Drowning" is a Nice Guy who is innocent and trusting to a fault.
  • Invisible Writing: Inverted in "Motive vs. Opportunity". A man who is unwisely about to disinherit his relatives in favour of a fraudulent psychic is cleverly tricked into writing his will in disappearing ink that will vanish without a trace.
  • Kill and Replace:
    • In "The Blood-Stained Pavement", the murdered woman is briefly impersonated by her husband's female accomplice.
    • In "The Companion", the woman known as Amy Durrant drowns her employer, Miss Barton, and takes her identity, pretending Amy was the one who drowned.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Played with at the beginning of "The Tuesday Night Club"; Joyce tries to think of a proper name for their spontaneously-made club, so she simply asks "What day of the week is it?" While it isn't stated that there's a calendar in her line of sight, it seems likely.
  • Lost Will and Testament: In "Motive vs. Opportunity", Simon's will had been recently rewritten to leave all his money to a Phony Psychic, instead of his family. However, when the envelope that should have contained the will is opened, all it contains is a piece of blank paper. Then it's subverted, as the will is still right where it was, but was written with an ink solution that vanishes, leaving no trace.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident:
    • Miss Marple catches Mr. Sanders trying to do this to his wife in "A Christmas Tragedy", by "accidentally" falling against her on the stairs of a tram.
    • In "The Herb of Death", everyone at dinner suffers from digitalin poisoning, due to foxglove leaves being inadvertently mixed with the sage cooked in the turkey. This is done to disguise the murder of Sylvia, who was secretly administered extra digitalin separately.
  • Meaningful Name: The young, beautiful woman who suggests a moonlit orgy to the Goddess of the Moon in "The Idol House of Astarte" is called Diana Ashley. In Roman mythology, Diana was the Goddess of the Moon. Diana Ashley actually dresses up as the Priestess of Astarte, which indirectly leads to the murder.
  • Mrs. Robinson: In "Death by Drowning", the 40-year-old landlady Mrs. Bartlett has fallen in love with her young tenant Joe Ellis.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse:
    • In "The Idol House of Astarte", the killer, in a moment of madness, acted to both inherit money and eliminate his romantic rival for Diana Ashley. He immediately regretted the murder and became a Death Seeker.
    • The motive for the murder in "The Blue Geranium". Nurse Copling disguises herself as a fortune teller to foretell Mrs. Pritchard's death and then carry it out, because she wants Mr. Pritchard for herself.
    • A subversion in "The Herb of Death": the young man whose fiancee, Sylvia, was killed had been seen kissing another young woman shortly beforehand, and they were married some time after the death. They were both innocent; however, his engagement to Sylvia was part of the murderer's motive.
    • This is also the motive of Mrs Bartlett from "Death by Drowning", who is in love with Joe Ellis and resents the hold that Rose continues to have over him.
  • Narrator All Along: Jane Helier at first attempts to pass off her story, "The Affair at the Bungalow", as having happened to a friend of hers. Nobody is fooled by this, and fairly soon she begins slipping up and saying "I" instead of "she", so she gives up the pretense. What she doesn't tell them, however, is that she herself is the mastermind of the crime she is describing, "rehearsing" her plot before she implemented it to find any flaws. Miss Marple figures it out but decides not to betray the storyteller in front of everyone else, though she does give Helier a discreet warning to not go through with the scheme, which she sensibly heeds.
  • Never Found the Body:
    • In "The Companion", Miss Barton seems like an obvious suspect for an earlier suspicious drowning leaves a suicide note and herself is presumed drowned; her body is not found. In fact, she had been using a fake identity when she killed the real Miss Barton and stole her identity; the faked suicide allowed her to return to her own identity.
    • "The Bloodstained Pavement" has an interesting variation. Margery was supposedly swept out to sea; the body washed up in a very battered condition sometime later. In fact, she had been murdered some time earlier up the coast by her husband Denis, and Carol, the accomplice, had taken her place to confuse the time of death and provide the killer with an alibi.
  • Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon: In "The Herb of Death", Sir Henry mentions a case where someone was shot with an antique pistol that had been hanging on the wall, and they had to work out who had opportunity to tamper with the weapon, and who brought the conversation round to where someone would do this, because the person who actually fired it was entirely innocent.
  • Obviously Evil: Mr. Kelvin in "Ingots of Gold" is presented as an unpleasant and suspicious character. He's actually been made a scapegoat in an elaborate plot.
  • Offing the Offspring: A father poisons his son in "The Thumb Mark of St. Peter", knowing that the son was planning to commit him to an institution.
  • Phone-In Detective: Miss Marple solves all thirteen mysteries through her expert knowledge of human nature. Mostly she does so on the spot without even having to leave her chair, the exceptions being the cases that she herself narrates and physically took part in ("The Thumb-Mark of St. Peter" and "A Christmas Tragedy").
  • Refuge in Audacity: In "The Four Suspects", the assassin's instructions are in a letter addressed to the victim himself, with the knowledge that he would not be able to make sense of it and would end up sharing it with his niece, the assassin.
  • Reverse Psychology: In "The Four Suspects", Dr. Rosen's niece Greta Rosen and his secretary Charles Templeton had been romantically attached. After his murder, Greta visits Sir Henry to plead with him to confirm Charles' innocence. Her intention in this is actually to throw suspicion on him.
  • Same Story, Different Names: The plot of "The Blue Geranium" was later reused in the Hercule Poirot short story "The Lernaean Hydra".
  • Spotting the Thread: In "Ingots of Gold", Miss Marple deduces that the gardener is not a real gardener because otherwise he would not be working on Whit Monday.
  • Suicide by Sea: In "The Companion", the woman who seems like an obvious suspect for an earlier suspicious drowning leaves a suicide note and herself is presumed drowned; her body is not found. In fact, she had been using the fake identity of Amy Durrant when she killed the previous victim, Mary Barton, and stole her identity. The faked suicide allowed her to return to her own identity.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Several of the culprits qualify to varying degrees.
    • In "The Idol House of Astarte", the murder was unpremeditated and was immediately regretted. The killer became a Death Seeker and died honourably.
    • In "The Companion", the victim was a wealthy relative of the killer, who desperately needed money to help several of her ill younger siblings with medical expenses. It is mentioned that the killer did first try asking the relative for help, but was refused as she had quarreled with their dead father.
    • In "Death by Drowning", the drowning victim, Rose was loved by Nice Guy Joe Ellis, but had gotten herself pregnant by another man who had dumped her. She was murdered by Joe's landlady, who had fallen in love with him herself and considered Rose a slut who was toying with his feelings.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part:
    • "A Christmas Tragedy" begins with Miss Marple meeting a Mr. and Mrs. Sanders at a spa, and stating that the moment she saw them, she knew that Mr. Sanders planned to murder his wife. He does, despite Miss Marple's best efforts to stop him, but she is instrumental in bringing him to justice.
    • In both "The Tuesday Night Club" and "The Bloodstained Pavement", a married man kills his wife using an elaborate means, with a female accomplice.
    • Subverted in "The Blue Geranium", in which the husband is a suspect but is innocent.
  • Time Skip: A year passes after the final story of the Tuesday Night Club, "The Thumb Mark of St. Peter"; Sir Henry is now staying with the Bantrys.
  • Trial Balloon Question: Jane Helier's entire story, "The Affair at the Bungalow", is this. Rather than telling of past events, she is really describing a crime she is planning to mastermind, as a way to gauge from the others' reactions whether there are any faults in her plot. Miss Marple catches on, and discreetly warns her to give it up.
  • Wife Husbandry: The desire of Sir Ambrose from "The Herb of Death". He's a Yandere in love with his younger ward Sylvia, whom he murders to stop her from marrying someone else, after realising that opposing the match openly would be pointless.
  • Writing Indentation Clue: In "The Tuesday Night Club", very shortly before his well-off wife dies, Mr. Jones writes a letter; the rather suspicious phrases "entirely dependent on my wife... when she is dead... hundreds and thousands" are picked up from the blotting-paper. He explains, however, that he was writing a reply to his brother who had asked for money; whilst he would have money after his wife was dead, he had none currently, and that hundreds and thousands of people were in the same boat. He's lying, but the "hundreds and thousands" do not refer to money, but to the dessert topping,note  which was his means of poisoning his wife.


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