The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie — Book Review
The Thirteen Problems is a collection of short mysteries from the Queen of Crime Fiction, Agatha Christie. As this book relates to short mysteries, Miss Marple is the star here. The Author herself favors this character more than her world-renowned short detective, Poirot. Some say that Miss Marple’s character resembles the author too much, which is why the author likes her more.
Now, let us come to the story. The story starts with a small gathering of old friends. As time passes, they decide to produce a problem for the stage and challenge others to solve it. They present 13 small but remarkable problems, some with solutions and some not. And of course, Miss Marple is the only one who could solve all those mysteries.
All the stories mentioned here are quite remarkable. But, according to me one of them stands out and that story portrays the author’s skills and justifies the title ‘The Queen Of Crime Fiction’.
This story is titled ‘The Affair at the Bungalow’ and it is set as the beautiful Jane Hellier, a stunning actress, presents the problem to the people. She starts her story with a statement that it had happened to one of her ‘friends’. The crowd immediately understood that it had happened only to herself, not to anyone else. Then she goes on with her act but soon she gets caught and admits to the group that it indeed happened to her.
After that, she completes the story and asks for possible solutions. While presenting the story, the beautiful actress stumbles with her words and Sir Henry (retired Scotland Yard Director) comes to her rescue every time. She seems to be so stunning that her bluntness never surfaced. But here it came to light when they asked her for the solution. She didn’t have anything other than the problem itself. Everyone presented their fair share of possible solutions. But, she couldn’t tell if any of them are correct. She even apologizes to them once she feels that they are feeling a bit angry towards her for not revealing the facts upfront.
Once everyone somehow accepts that there is no viable solution and moves on, Miss Marple whispers something in Jane’s ears before she left. Jane was stunned by her words. Once everyone is retired to their respective rooms for the night, Mrs. Bantry the hostess comes to see Jane. Then Jane asks her if there are more people like Miss Marple. Mrs. Bantry replies that she is not sure. But then asks why.
Jane opens up and tells her everything. She even admits that she was the one who engineered the whole Burglary incident in the Bangalow, the story that she told everyone. But, somehow Miss Marple had figured it out earlier and kept it to herself. Her only hint was a shrewd remark “We girls watch each other’s back” while discussing the possible solutions. And what she whispered in Jane’s ears was a warning stating, “Don’t trust her too much”.
Mrs. Bantry asks don’t trust who? And Jane finally explains how she had orchestrated the whole burglary act, with the help of her understudy. Miss Marple had figured out that the whole incident hadn’t happened yet and warned her about trusting her understudy too much.
This is what mesmerized me. The whole story was a ploy that was carefully orchestrated in the narrator’s mind. It was told in the past tense as if it had actually happened, but in reality, it hadn’t. Miss Jane was planning to execute the plan sometime later that year to damage someone else’s reputation. But, the way that the problem was presented, the layers of secrets it held, and the clues that were carefully left for the readers to notice, together it becomes a masterpiece. I am not sure how one can write such a masterpiece in twenty pages. The story not only showcases the intellect of Miss Marple, but also the skills of the young Miss Jane, beauty mingled with brains.
I personally believe that whoever can convince others that they are ignorant, is really the brightest and cunning amongst them all.
Long live the Queen!