When one utters the word "detective" or "sleuth", what is the image that comes to mind? A studious gentleman with monocle wandering about with a magnifying glass? A trench-coated, lantern-jawed, hard-boiled individual prowling the back alleys of dark America? Or... a little, pink old lady sitting in the corner, trying to catch up on her knitting?
For fans of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, the third image is as valid as the first two.
This unlikely detective relies on her intimate knowledge of human nature, having had "the opportunity to observe it at close quarters" in a village like St. Mary Mead, to solve mysteries. She compares the love affair of her nephew Raymond West with that of the milkman and the maid: and when the self-important, intellectual, avant-garde novelist is shocked that he could be compared to such a lowly individual, Miss Marple says affably that "everyone is very much like" everyone else. It is this predictability of human nature that the old lady draws upon to arrive at her conclusions.The Thirteen Problems
contains two sets of six stories each in the same format. A group of individuals are relaxing with drinks after dinner in a cosy British parlour. Each of the people tell a story - a real life mystery the solution to which only he/ she knows - and the others have to guess. The idea is mooted by Raymond, who is initially incredulous that his aunt wants to "play" at all. However, his incredulity changes to bewilderment and grudging admiration ( a sentiment shared by others at the gathering) when Miss Marple emerges the winner each and every time, by comparing it with a village parallel.
One of the members of the gathering is Sir Henry Clithering, retired Commissioner of Police. He and Miss Marple are the common factors in the second set of stories, where the parlour is different and the participants are different. However, Miss Marple comes up trumps once again. Sir Henry leaves with lasting respect in his mind for this "finest sleuth" in the world.
Which is why, in the last story, he prepares to take on the task Miss Marple has entrusted him with: save an innocent from punishment for a crime which he has not committed. Armed with the foreknowledge of the name of the person Miss Marple thinks is the murderer, Sir Henry is able to succeed. The story ends with the significant sentence:
Miss Marple had been right again.
Yes, it has indeed become a habit for this little old lady.
Everyone would have their own favourites in this collection; mine are The Idol House of Astarte
and The Blue Geranium
. However, each one is a gem.
This book is a masterpiece of the genre.