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Agatha Christie's detective Jane Marple made her first appearance in a sequence of six short stories published in The Royal Magazine between 1927 and 1928. The stories' success led Christie to write a further half-dozen Miss Marple stories in 1929–1930 for The Story-Teller Magazine. These stories, along with another written in 1931, were published in 1932 as The Thirteen Problems. Meanwhile, the first full-length novel featuring Marple, The Murder at the Vicarage, had been published in 1930.

Both The Thirteen Problems and The Murder of the Vicarage allude to a mystery that had vexed St Mary Mead, the village where Miss Marple lives: the unexpected disappearance of some shrimp. In the first story in the former, "The Tuesday Night Club", Marple's nephew, Raymond West, holds forth on "things that have happened and that no one has ever explained". This dialogue ensues:

     "I know just the sort of thing you mean, dear," said Miss Marple. "For instance, Mrs. Carruthers had a very strange experience yesterday morning. She bought two gills of picked shrimp at Elliot's. She called at two other shops and when she got back home she found she had not got the shrimps with her. She went back to the two shops she had visited but these shrimps had completely disappeared. Now that seems to me very remarkable."
     "A very fishy story," said Sir Henry Clithering gravely.
     "There are, of course, all kinds of possible explanations," said Miss Marple, her cheeks growing slightly pinker with excitement. "For instance, somebody else—"

Christie, Agatha. "The Tuesday Night Club". 1927. Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories. New York: HarperCollins, 2022. p. 3.

This exchange establishes that the incident of the vanishing shrimp has happened only the previous day, and that Marple has not yet gotten to the bottom of it. When Sir Henry Clithering visits St Mary Mead again a year later, he asks Marple whether she has any "pet mystery":

     Miss Marple shook her head.
     "Nothing that would interest you, Sir Henry. We have our little mysteries, of course—there was that gill of picked shrimps that disappeared so incomprehensibly; but that wouldn't interest you because it all turned out to be so trivial, though throwing a considerable light on human nature."

Christie, Agatha. "A Christmas Tragedy". 1928. Op. cit., p. 154.

But nobody proffers an alternative narrative for Clithering's delectation, so he presses Marple again:

     "I see we shall have to have that epic of the shrimps," said Sir Henry. "Now then, Miss Marple."
     "You're so fond of your joke, Sir Henry. The shrimps are only nonsense."

Ibid., p. 155.

From this, it is clear that at some point in the intervening year, Miss Marple has solved the mystery of the missing shrimp. This is confirmed by The Murder of the Vicarage. When Colonel Protheroe is murdered, the vicar's wife, Griselda, says:

"I wish you'd solve the case, Miss Marple, like you did the way Miss Wetherby's gill of picked shrimps disappeared. And all because it reminded you of something quite different about a sack of coals."

Christie, Agatha. The Murder at the Vicarage. 1930. New York: Dell, 1973. pp. 77–78.

And Marple herself mentions having solved this case:

"One takes a little problem—for instance the gill of picked shrimps that amused dear Griselda so much—a quite unimportant mystery, but absolutely incomprehensible unless one solves it right."

Ibid., p. 192.

It's rather unlikely that St Mary Mead is a hotbed of prawn poaching, so both books almost certainly refer to the same incident. One gathers, then, that the mystery involves both Mrs Carruthers and Miss Wetherby. One can also surmise that the solution involves some mix-up between Miss Wetherby's one gill of shrimp and Mrs Carruthers' two. Alternatively, one could propose that the switch from two gills to one is a metatextual reënactment of the disappearing decapods. Ultimately, though, this reader is left with the burning question: What happened to the gill(s) of picked shrimp? And where does the bag of coal fit in?

Does Christie (or Marple) elaborate on this baffling episode in any other work, giving a full account of the mystery? Failing that, has some enterprising pastiche writer such as Sophie Hannah written anything that furnishes further details of the perplexing problem of the pilfered prawns, including its resolution? Failing that, do you have any wild speculations on the subject for me to upvote enthusiastically?

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  • There are further mysteries, of course, such as why Christie insists on using the form shrimps when the plural of shrimp is shrimp. Or why anybody would want to buy a shrimp gill or two. Or what sort of establishment, exactly, sells crustacean respiratory organs.
    – verbose
    Dec 1, 2023 at 8:47
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    I assumed that sense of the word when I read the title, but I soon realised that it's the other sense of gill 'a unit of liquid measure, equal to a quarter of a pint'. It's a measurement that's almost forgotten nowadays. Dec 1, 2023 at 9:39
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    Sounds like a Noodle Incident Dec 1, 2023 at 15:54
  • @verbose The OED doesn't express a view on the relative merits of shrimp v shrimps as a plural form, but in their definition for the intransitive verb shrimp they go with 'To fish for shrimps'.
    – Spagirl
    Dec 1, 2023 at 17:25
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    @verbose - Shrimps used to be sold by volume. Hogarth's Shrimp Girl carries a half-pint mug for measuring in her basket. (Googling pint of shrimps actually produced a lot of references to a pint of prawns, evidently a popular snack in British seaside pubs.) Dec 2, 2023 at 9:33

1 Answer 1

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As per my comment, I think this is a Noodle Incident, and has no actual explanation.

The Noodle Incident is something from the past that is referred to but never explained, with the implication that it's just too ludicrous for words—or perhaps too offensive for depiction—and the reality that any explanation would fall short of audience expectations.

It's named after a recurring reference in the Calvin and Hobbes comics by Bill Watterson. And mysteries are no stranger to such incidents, as per the Sherlock Holmes's "Giant Rat of Sumatra".

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  • well yes, but there are stories about the giant rat of Sumatra, albeit non-Conanical. Even if Christie does not supply any further details elsewhere about this (which this answer does not explicitly assert), the question does ask whether anybody else has filled in the gap. So: upvoted, but deemed unacceptable. Nice to know that such references have a specific name, though! "Noodle incident" is a great term!
    – verbose
    Dec 3, 2023 at 3:31
  • @verbose Why wouldn't "wild guesses" fall under "opinion" and therefore be off-topic?
    – cmw
    Dec 3, 2023 at 19:55

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