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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 Colonel 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:

  • Agent Scully: Surprisingly deconstructed with Mr. Petherick, the lawyer who features in the first six stories. His role in the Party of Representatives is "the logical one," and he is quick to focus on hard facts instead of succumbing to superstition, as "The Idol House of Astarte" proves. But his own story, "Murder v. Opportunity," centers on the question of spirit mediums and psychic phenomena, which he refuses to discount outright as most Scullys do. Mr. Petherick explains that, as a "believer in evidence," he is willing to admit that there are some supernatural incidents that cannot be easily discounted based on the proof presented, and furthermore says that there are certain paranormal experts who he trusts immensely. He ultimately takes on a kind of agnostic role—"I am neither a believer nor an unbeliever"—and explains that since the evidence cannot fully confirm or fully deny the existence of the supernatural, he is willing to explore it as a possible explanation when it seems logically sound.
  • 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.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Mary Pritchard, the murder victim of "The Blue Geranium," is a petulant hypochondriac who throws tantrums and fusses over every trivial incident that comes up, all the while accusing her husband George of hating her and claiming that nothing he does is right. Mrs. Bantry outright remarks that if George had gotten fed up one day and killed her, "if there were any women on the jury, he would have been promptly acquitted."
    • It's ultimately revealed that Mary Barton, the true murder victim of "The Companion," is also one. Amy Durrant, her murderer, is the eldest of a family of nine siblings; the family is extremely poor, and the youngest children need expensive medical treatment. Amy wrote Mary (who was not only wealthy but her only living relative) begging for help, but Mary refused because she had quarreled with Amy's father years earlier and couldn't get over it. Had she simply shared some of her fortune with her cousins, she would have lived.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • In "The Companion," Dr. Lloyd begins his story by talking about a sensuous Spanish dancer who he was certain would lead an exciting, eventful life. The rest of the group thinks that the tale will be about her, but he sheepishly explains that he was wrong—the dancer ended up having a happily mundane life, while the real mystery centers on two middle-aged English women who at first appeared completely boring.
    • In "The Herb of Death," Mrs. Bantry originally tells her story in a single sentence, insisting that there's nothing more to it. As the group asks questions and discovers the secrets of the people in the household, however, they (and, to some extent, Mrs. Bantry herself) realizes that the tale is far more complicated and interesting than she originally said.
  • Big Sister Instinct: A villainous version occurs in "The Companion." Amy Durrant travels to England under an assumed identity and becomes the companion to the wealthy Mary Barton—her own cousin—to kill her and take her identity. Her motivation? She's the eldest of nine children—not only are they poor, but her youngest siblings need expensive medical care for debilitating illnesses. When Mary turned down a desperate plea for help because of an old quarrel with Amy's father, Amy decided that murder was the only way to save her family.
  • Bitter Almonds: Why there was a whiff of gas in the room in "The Blue Geranium". The killer killed Mrs. Pritchard by switching out her smelling salts with cyanide, and then turned on the gas to mask the smell of almonds.
  • 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.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Yes, Jane Helier is somewhat shallow and not exactly the best conversationalist, but she is an incredibly talented actress. We get evidence of this in "The Affair at the Bungalow," when she successfully tricks everyone but Miss Marple with her story about a crime that supposedly happened to her—she's actually planning to commit the crime and was testing it out. It's notable that even Sir Henry Clithering, the former Commissioner of Scotland Yard, doesn't realize that Jane is acting.
  • Character Development:
    • At the beginning of the second half of the collection, Jane Helier is extremely passive and, when challenged to try to solve the crimes presented, can't think of any possible solutions (in "The Companion," she's not even sure of what happens in the ending). However, as the night progresses, she gradually becomes more comfortable with the situation and shows some Hidden Depths—by "The Herb of Death," she's asking intelligent questions and comes up with a genuinely plausible theory for the murder. This in turn allows her to narrate her own story, "The Affair at the Bungalow," as she now feels confident enough to express herself.
    • Sir Henry Clithering starts the collection as a very serious, quiet man who's clearly uncomfortable sharing what he considers personal failings of Scotland Yard. After watching Miss Marple in action, he grows increasingly comfortable and eager to make jokes with his fellow storytellers. The second gathering of unsolved mysteries occurs on Clithering's recommendation and it's heavily implied he primarily arranged the proceedings to get Marple's advice on a case.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Mrs. Bantry's knowledge of flowers, which is established early in the second half of the short story collection, comes in handy in "The Four Suspects," as it allows her to notice the capitalized names of dahlia varieties in a letter and expose the secret message therein.
    • In "Motive v. Opportunity," it's mentioned in passing that Grace Clode marries a chemist after moving in with her uncle Simon. He was the person who provided the fountain pen full of disappearing ink to prevent Simon from disinheriting the younger Clodes, as it was composed of water, starch, and iodine, all things that he had in his possession. He's also the person who reveals the scheme to Petherick at the end, implying it was his idea in the first place.
  • 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.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In a few instances, the narrator of each tale only learns the truth because of some remarkable coincidence that seems highly implausible. In "The Idol House of Astarte" and "The Herb of Death," both Dr. Pender and Mrs. Bantry receives letters out of the blue from the killers in question confessing their role in their respective murders (Mrs. Bantry in particular lampshades the unlikely nature of this); in "The Companion," Dr. Lloyd gets off a boat in Australia and just so happens to immediately run into the murderer walking nearby; and in "The Blood-Stained Pavement," Joyce is visiting another randomly selected seaside town when the murderous couple from the previous year shows up to pull off their scheme again.
    • The overall framing narrative for the collection also counts. Somehow, eleven different people just so happen to each have a personal experience with crime, with seven of them (Dr. Pender, Joyce, Miss Marple, Colonel Bantry, Mrs. Bantry, Dr. Lloyd, and Sir Henry) having witnessed a murder in particular. It's understandable with Sir Henry, as he was a Commissioner of Scotland Yard for some time, but the other six don't have much of an excuse. The odds of seven people having intimate knowledge of gruesome murders are astronomical—the odds of those people being in a room together are even higher.
    • Raymond, who tells the story of "Ingots of Gold", doesn't know the answer to the mystery — but one of the other guests, Sir Henry Clithering, conveniently does. And it's sheer chance that he does, as the crime was committed hundreds of miles outside Scotland Yard's jurisdiction, and thus wouldn't normally come to his attention — the only reason Sir Henry knows about it is that the perpetrator went on to be caught after robbing a bank in London, and the stolen bullion was discovered during the subsequent investigation.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates:
    • In "The Thumb Mark of St. Peter," Miss Marple remarks that when her niece Mabel started courting her future husband, everyone in the family (including Miss Marple herself) told her that it was a bad match and they wouldn't get along, which only increased Mabel's determination to woo him.
    • In "Death by Drowning," the murder victim, Rose Emmott, was in a pseudo-relationship with local Nice Guy Joe Ellis, but had an affair with a visiting architect Rex Sandford. Rose's father makes it very clear that he despises Sandford and blames him completely for the murder.
  • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: Colonel Bantry describes Mary Pritchard, the murdered woman in "The Blue Geranium," as one of these—a "semi-invalid" who had some kind of chronic illness and decided to make everyone else's lives miserable while using it as a shield. She fires maids, treats her husband like dirt, and is generally horrible, then claims to "feel faint" or demands special attention whenever someone calls her out on her childish actions.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind:
    • In "Death by Drowning," there are three main suspects in Rose Emmott's death: her longtime suitor Joe Ellis who was hopelessly in love with her; Rex Sandford, a visiting architect who was the father of her unborn child; and Mr. Emmott, who might have become enraged at his daughter's having a baby out of wedlock. The real killer is...none of these men. It's Joe Ellis's landlady, Mrs. Bartlett, who fell in love with Joe herself and was driven to murderous rage at the thought of "losing" him to the adulterous Rose.
    • In "Motive v. Opportunity," the listeners must figure out who switched Simon Clode's will with a blank piece of paper. They focus on the Clode children, who were disinherited but didn't have the opportunity to make the swap, and the Spraggs, who were left alone with the document but had no reason to switch it because they were receiving almost all the estate. The actual culprits are Phillip Gerrod, Grace Clode's husband who wasn't even in the house at the time, and Emma the maid, who disliked the Spraggs and their influence on Simon. The two conspired to fill a fountain pen with disappearing ink—Phillip, a chemist, provided it, and Emma made sure to give it to Simon when she saw that he was preparing to make out a new will—which faded after a few days, saving the Clode children's inheritance.
  • Drama Queen:
    • Mary Pritchard, the victim of "The Blue Geranium," is described as such. Colonel Bantry remarks that she did have a legitimate illness of some kind, but deliberately claimed it was much worse than it actually was and used it as an excuse to treat everyone around her horribly.
    • Miss Marple's niece Mabel in "The Thumb Mark of St. Peter" is a nicer version. Her aunt describes her as "silly," and the kind of person who frequently becomes hysterical and kicks up a fuss instead of communicating clearly. Unlike Mary, though, Mabel is fundamentally a decent person whose fits don't really hurt anyone.
  • Dying Clue: In "The Thumb Mark of St. Peter," Geoffrey Denman has a few seconds of lucidity as he's dying and shouts out what the servants think is "Pile of carp, pile of carp." He was actually saying "pilocarpine," a known antidote for atropine poisoning—his father had slipped atropine sulfate into his drinking glass, and Geoffrey was desperately trying to say the name of the cure.
  • Face Death with Dignity: In "The Four Suspects," Dr. Rosen singlehandedly takes on the Schwartze Hand, a fictional German terrorist organization. He succeeds in disbanding and permanently destabilizing it, but knows full well that its remaining members will get revenge on him with murder. When Rosen visits Sir Henry Clithering to make arrangements for temporary safety in England, he is completely at peace with what will happen to him—his death is a question of when, not if—and reassures Clithering that he does not blame anyone for his fate.
  • 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.
    • Mrs. Bantry in general is constantly described as flower-obsessed; when stories aren't being told, she's either reading garden catalogues or planning her latest border. As might be expected, this knowledge lets her help Miss Marple solve the mystery in "The Four Suspects."
  • 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 which she is describing - though it is just a plan and has not yet been committed.
    • Also in "The Affair at the Bungalow", Jane Helier mentions that at the time of the incident, she was playing the lead in Somerset Maugham's play "Smith", and Dolly Bantry mentions "You're reviving it this autumn, aren't you?". This foreshadows that Jane's scheme is not only connected with that play, as her costume is needed for the plan, but is yet to actually happen. Someone familiar with the play would know that the lead character - which Jane would obviously be playing - is a domestic servant, hinting that Jane herself would play the fake Jane Helier's maid.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: Ten of the thirteen stories in the collection center specifically on unsolved murders. There are three exceptions:
    • "Ingots of Gold" is about the theft of bullion from a sunken ship and Raymond West's attempts to discover what happened to it.
    • "Motive v. Opportunity," Mr. Petherick's tale, is a Locked Room Mystery centering on a Lost Will and Testament between a rich man's rightful heirs and the fake psychic medium trying to con him out of his fortune.
    • "The Affair at the Bungalow" is about a mysterious incident from Jane Helier's past wherein someone impersonated her and stole jewelry from a rich woman. This is a double example because, while all of the other stories are recollections, Jane's is actually a Trial Balloon Question about a crime she herself is planning to commit, although Miss Marple's ability to solve the mystery ultimately deters her.
  • 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.
  • Good is Not Nice: Miss Marple is definitely a crusader for justice and something of a Granny Classic, but she also has a severe streak. In "A Christmas Tragedy," she immediately realizes that Mr. Sanders plans to kill his young wife; she isn't able to stop him from doing so, but she does prove he did it. She then proudly declares that Sanders was hanged and expresses utter contempt for "modern humanitarian scruples" against capital punishment.
  • 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 anyone else could figure it out. Miss Marple is the only one who does, and Jane, unlike many other would-be criminals in Christie, is smart enough to decide against going through with her scheme.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • In "The Herb of Death," Mrs. Bantry calls Adelaide Carpenter, one of the suspects, a "pussy woman." She explains that she means "a big soft white purry person," but the constant use of the word "pussy" might raise eyebrows for twenty-first century readers ("What about the pussy woman?" "I don't like pussies").
    • In "The Idol House of Astarte," Diana Ashley happily suggests that the members of a household have "a wild orgy," using the original definition of the term as a set of ancient rituals to a pagan deity.
  • The Hecate Sisters: The second half of the collection features a mild version in its three female characters. Jane Helier is the Maiden (young, beautiful, and ditzy); Dolly Bantry is the Mother (middle-aged, plump, and interested in gardening and housekeeping); and Miss Marple is the Crone (elderly, wizened, and shrewdly intelligent).
  • 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.
    • At the end of "Motive v. Opportunity," Phillip Garrod lunches with Mr. Petherick and casually brings up a friend of his who recently had some trouble with a wealthy relative's estate almost being taken from the rightful heirs. Mr. Petherick immediately realizes that Phillip is talking about his wife and her siblings, but the other man is clearly trying to avoid naming names ("Of course my friend is not known to you, Petherick") and so doesn't push the matter.
  • 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.
    • This is also Jane Helier's motivation in "The Affair at the Bungalow"—she's out for revenge against the woman who stole her first husband away, and plans to expose her by organizing a complicated plot that would reveal the second woman's adultery to the world and thus ruin her reputation.
    • A inversion occurs in "Death by Drowning": the murderer, Mrs. Bartlett, kills Rose Emmott because she's fallen in love with Rose's long-term boyfriend Joe herself. Realizing that Joe was prepared to marry Rose, she took it upon herself to eliminate her competition.
  • 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • In "The Thumb Mark of St. Peter," Mabel Denman is described this way—she's whiny, self-centered, and prone to fits of hysteria, but fundamentally a kind, good person. It's best exemplified when she outright refuses to allow her husband Geoffrey to commit his father to an insane asylum, insisting that he receive at-home care instead.
    • In "The Blue Geranium," Colonel Bantry describes his friend George Pritchard this way—obstinate and stubborn, but generally a decent man who's stuck with an extremely nasty woman for a wife (which in turn brings out his worst qualities).
  • Karma Houdini: The killers in "The Companion" and "The Herb of Death" both died without their crimes having been exposed. The killer in "The Four Suspects" also manages to escape before their guilt is discovered, although Miss Marple speculates that they'll come to a bad end sooner or later due to associating with criminals.
  • 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.
  • Laughing Mad: At the end of "The Thumb Mark of St. Peter," the elderly Mr. Denman begins to cackle hysterically when Miss Marple correctly names him as his son's murderer.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail:
    • In "Motive v. Opportunity", Mr. Petherick specifically mentions a seemingly trivial detail that initially appears to have no relevance to the story: the fact that, when Mr. Clode's new will was written, the housemaid took the pen from a different drawer to the one it was normally kept in. Nobody (except Miss Marple, obviously) picks up on this. The pen was a duplicate filled with disappearing ink. The housemaid was in on the plan, and had agreed to make sure she brought him this pen if he decided to change his will. It was kept in a different drawer so it wouldn't be mixed up with the real one.
    • A similar situation occurs in "The Thumb-Mark of St. Peter." Miss Marple specifically mentions Mr. Denman's nursemaid saying that her patient's eyes are the only thing physically wrong with him. This apparently unimportant detail makes her realize that Mr. Denman murdered his son using his atropine-sulfate eye drops as a poison, as he was the only person in the house who had access to them.
  • 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 is a calendar in her line of sight, it seems likely.
  • Locked Room Mystery: A variant occurs in "Motive v. Opportunity." Simon Clode writes a new will that leaves only small sums to his nieces and nephew, instead giving the majority of his vast wealth to the Phony Psychic Eurydice Spragg. Mr. Petherick prepares the will, seals it in an envelope, then goes about the rest of his visit to the Clode estate and, upon returning to his office, locks it in a safe. Two months later, when Simon dies, he opens the sealed envelope...and the will is gone, replaced with a sheet of blank paper. As the title implies, Christie plays with the trope: the Clode children had a motive for making the swap, but had no opportunity to do so, as they were within full view of Mr. Petherick the entire time, whereas both Eurydice Spragg and her husband were alone with the will for at least five minutes each and thus had the necessary opportunity, but no motive—why would they disinherit themselves? It turns out that the will was actually written with disappearing ink, so no substitution was ever made in the first place—the writing simply faded after a few days.
  • 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 is subverted, as the will is still right where it was, but was written with an ink solution that vanishes, leaving no trace.
  • Love Makes You Evil: The murderers in "The Idol House of Astarte," "The Herb of Death," and "Death by Drowning" are all driven to kill because of their desperate love.
  • Love Makes You Stupid: In "Motive vs. Opportunity," Simon Clode is a shrewd, intelligent man—but he was also completely enamored with his granddaughter Christobel and spoiled her immensely. As such, when Phony Psychic Eurydice Spragg claims that she can communicate with Christobel, Simon believes everything she says and begins treating her like his own child, much to the consternation of the other Clodes and Mr. Petherick. Even though Mrs. Spragg is a walking stereotype whose "manifestations" of Chris don't match up to her actual personality, Clode's love for his granddaughter makes him unable to see the truth.
  • 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 ducks they had for dinner. 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.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In "The Companion," Mary Barton suffers from this and Sanity Slippage after Amy Durrant dies. She takes a room in Cornwall and slowly becomes more and more haunted by guilt. Her neighbors report that she stays up all night pacing across the floor while endlessly muttering, and she eventually drowns herself to atone for killing Amy. Miss Marple realizes that it was all a fake: the "Miss Barton" in Cornwall was the real Amy Durrant, who'd pulled a Kill and Replace on Mary. The apparent guilt was just a ruse to keep people from questioning the suicide, which was faked.
  • 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. She then 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.
    • Noodle Incident: The end of "The Affair at the Bungalow" reveals that Jane Helier has been unhappily married at least three times, given that Miss Bantry thinks back to "the first of [Jane's] unfortunate marriages." We never learn any more details about those marriages beyond the initial one ending because her husband cheated on her.
  • 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 has 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.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted with Miss Jane Marple and Jane Helier. However, the only person who regularly uses the former's first name is Dolly Bantry; everyone else calls her Miss Marple, so every reference to "Jane" usually means the younger woman.
  • Party of Representatives: The Framing Device of the first six stories kicks off when each member of Miss Marple's household party claims that their particular skillset is best suited for solving mysteries. In addition, each person comes from a different profession and has a different insight into human nature. It's lampshaded by Joyce when she remarks "It seems to me that we are a pretty representative gathering."
    • Raymond West, the author, says that his insight into psychology and imagination makes him able to perceive the world differently;
    • Mr. Petherick, the lawyer, insists that his profession's ability to closely examine facts and use unbiased logic is the best choice;
    • Joyce Lemprière, the artist, boasts that not only does her history of world travel and sensibility as a painter help her, but she also has the innate advantages of being a woman at her disposal;
    • Sir Henry Clithering, the retired Scotland Yard Commissioner, is a police officer who has the most experience actually dealing with crime (although he is too humble to make such a claim in front of the others);
    • Dr. Pender, the clergyman, remarks that as a priest, he witnesses the true depths of people's character and knows just how bad they can be;
    • Miss Marple, the spinster, seems to be the odd woman out, but her long life and time observing people in St. Mary Mead has given her unparalleled insight into the human mind. Naturally, she is the one who solves every single mystery given.
  • 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").
  • Phony Psychic: Mrs. Eurydice Spragg, in "Motive v. Opportunity," is one of these—she claims to be a spirit medium who can contact the dead, and puts the elderly Simon Clode in contact with his deceased granddaughter Christobel. Since Clode was completely devastated by her death, he is easily manipulated by Mrs. Spragg's tricks. Mr. Petherick, Clode's family, and even an expert on psychic phenomena all realize that Eurydice is a fraud trying to con the elderly man out of his massive wealth, but Simon won't hear it. A variant also occurs in "The Blue Geranium" when the killer impersonates a psychic in order to play on the victim's superstition to set up a scenario in which they can kill her.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: In "Motive v. Opportunity," Simon Clode's family conspires to prevent him from leaving his massive estate to a Phony Psychic named Eurydice Spragg who has wormed her way into his life through trickery. This is most definitely illegal—Mr. Petherick remarks that "there was no question of insanity," which means Clode's will could not be contested in court—but since Mrs. Spragg is clearly the villain in the story, we cheer for the subterfuge.
  • 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's innocence. Her intention in this is actually to throw suspicion on him.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Rereading "The Affair at the Bungalow" reveals some interesting tidbits that hint at the solution to the crime. Jane Helier's inability to come up with the details of what happened is explained because they haven't happened—she's actually planning to commit the burglary she's describing and so doesn't have specifics to share. Similarly, Miss Marple's comments about how the jewel theft feel like someone out for revenge, and how women should stick together, are actually her dropping subtle hints to Jane that she knows the truth (Jane's motive is getting back at the woman who ruined her first marriage) but won't expose her in front of the crowd.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons:
    • Mrs. Bantry inadvertently stumbles onto the solution of "The Companion" when she mixes up the names of the women involved. She defends herself by saying it's confusing because the idea of a rich woman murdering her lady's maid doesn't make any sense—it's much more likely to be the other way around. The name slip-up was a genuine mistake, but it turns out that her theory is the correct one.
    • In "The Herb of Death," a group of people eat ducks accidentally stuffed with foxglove leaves instead of sage, with everyone suffering food poisoning and one young woman dying as a result. Dr. Lloyd remarks that he's surprised at the death, because stories about toxic leaves and berries are greatly exaggerated—the dangerous chemicals in plants have to be carefully extracted to be medicinal, let alone fatal. As Miss Marple points out, Dr. Lloyd accidentally named the murder method—the victim was actually killed by a separate dose of digitalis in a drink, with the mass poisoning serving as a kind of camouflage—but couldn't figure out who did it.
  • Same Story, Different Names:
    • The plot of "The Blue Geranium" was later reused in the Hercule Poirot short story "The Lernaean Hydra".
    • The central conceit of "The Thumbmark of St. Peter"—an innocent person's reputation slowly being poisoned by gossip—is also featured in "The Lernaean Hydra."
    • The central conceit of "The Affair at the Bungalow"—a talented actress disguising herself as her own maid to frame a male victim for a crime—is later used to more heroic effect in Christie's "The Actress."
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Diana Ashley from "The Idol House of Astarte". Her beauty becomes part of the motive for the murderer's unpremeditated crime of passion.
  • 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.
    • In "The Four Suspects," Miss Marple notes that the word "Honesty" in a letter from a mysterious person is capitalized, pointing that out to Mrs. Bantry. The two women then realize that all of the capitalized words in the letter, including Honesty, are specific breeds of dahlia, with their initial letters spelling "DEATH" as a secret message.
    • In "The Idol House of Astarte," Miss Marple determines the murderer because he was dressed as a brigand chief for a costume party. Having seen such costumes before, she realized that he was the only person who could have stabbed the victim then immediately hidden the weapon on his person, as most brigand chief outfits have knives and daggers around the waist.
  • 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.
  • Terminally Ill Criminal: One of the reasons the killer in "The Companion" isn't turned in is that they're suffering from heart disease and will be dead in a few months (in the end they hold on for six months).
  • That Reminds Me of a Story: Miss Marple's M.O. Every case in the collection reminds her of a previous incident in her life, and she is able to determine the truth by making connections between the two. It's lampshaded by Sir Henry, who comments on her ability to draw "village parallels" no matter what she's hearing. Miss Marple herself explains that "human nature is very much the same everywhere," and so she's able to predict what people will do by recalling comparable situations from St. Mary Mead's history.
  • 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.
  • Two Girls to a Team: The original Tuesday Night Club consists of four men (Raymond West, Sir Henry Clithering, Mr. Petherick, and Dr. Pender) and two women (Joyce Lemprière and Miss Marple). The trope is then averted with the house party that features in the second group of stories—that group is a Gender-Equal Ensemble of three men (Sir Henry Clithering, Colonel Arthur Bantry, and Dr. Lloyd) and three women (Miss Marple, Mrs. Dolly Bantry, and Jane Helier).
  • Wacky Americans Have Wacky Names: The Phony Psychic in "Motive v. Opportunity" is an American con artist who glories in the name of "Eurydice Spragg".
  • Weight Woe:
    • In "The Tuesday Night Club," Miss Clark, the companion to murder victim Mrs. Jones, is "alarmed at her increasing stoutness" and goes on a health course called "banting" (historically the first recorded instance of a low-carbohydrate diet) to try to lose weight. The murderer, Mr. Jones, uses this to his advantage by concealing the poison which kills his wife in the "hundreds and thousands" sprinkled on top of the trifle the three had for dessert. Since Miss Clark was on a diet, she didn't have any trifle and so didn't become ill.
    • Mrs. Bantry makes a few jokes about this trope in the second half of the collection, frequently remarking that she's "old and fat."
  • Wife Husbandry: The desire of Sir Ambrose from "The Herb of Death". He is a Yandere in love with his younger ward Sylvia. He murders Sylvia 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 is 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.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Lampshaded in "The Bloodstained Pavement". Joyce didn't care for the village of Rathole, thinking it was a little too quaint with "too much of the atmosphere of 'Ye Olde Cornish Tea House' about it."