Agatha Christie: The Mysterious Mr Quin

mysterious_mr_quin

After I turned from poetry and ghost stories to crime, Harlequin finally reappeared; a figure invisible except when he chose, not quite human, yet concerned with the affairs of human beings and particularly of lovers. He is also the advocate for the dead.

For once this month I decided not to leave my Crimes of the Century book until the very last minute. Mr Quin is a lesser known Christie creation who appeared in this short-story collection in 1930, but was apparently written over several years.

Mr Satterthwaite is a quaint and rather womanly old man, very conscious of his own comforts, addicted to his hobbies of hanging around with aristocrats, patronising the arts, and people-watching.

A little bent, dried-up man with a peering face oddly elf-like, and an intense and inordinate interest in other people’s live, All his life, so to speak, he had sat in the front row of the stalls watching various dramas of human nature unfold before him. His role had always been that of the onlooker.

There are hints that he almost had a different life – a scullery maid kissed in a corridor, a proposal of marriage never delivered – but he is resigned to his rather lonely life.

His appearance in the stories collected in this volume is justified by his association with the mysterious Mr Quin, who pops up in the most unlikely places with a magical facility.

Mr Quin smiled, and a stained glass panel behind him invested him for just a moment in a motley garment of coloured light.

Whenever Quin appears,  mystery and romance are sure to be on the cards. His encouragement and advice reveal a hidden side to Mr Satterthwaite.

‘He has a power – an almost uncanny power – of showing you what you have seen with your own eyes, of making clear to you what you have heard with your own ears.’

In Quin’s company, Satterthwaite gets the power to solve mysteries. The stories showcase a familiar cast of eccentric and domineering duchesses, handsome but curmudgeonly artists with beards, beautiful but graceless artists with page-boy haircuts and jumpers, glamorous but faded dancers, tedious ghost-hunters and table-turners, fortune hunters and big game hunters. Each story sets up a puzzle, usually some tragedy, that a fresh perspective and Mr Satterthwaite’s eye for human behaviour resolve.

Mr Quin is undoubtedly supernatural and therefore an oddity in Golden Age crime fiction as far as I know. Christie talks in her preface about her youthful interest in the commedia dell’arte and the figure of Harlequin in particular. The stories seem artfully composed in the style of Harlequin tales.

‘They were insured,’ said Miss Nunn dreamily. ‘Not like my opal.’
A spasm of exquisite heart-rending grief fluttered across her face.
Several times, when in the company of Mr Quin, Mr Satterthwaite had had the feeling of taking part in a play. The illusion was with him very strongly now. This was a dream. Everyone had his part. The words ‘my opal’ were his own cue. He leant forward.
‘Your opal, Miss Nunn?

In tone the stories are actually akin to G. K. Chesterton when he was being irritatingly whimsical. I have quite a high tolerance to this, but I think it would send many readers batty.

Moonlight was streaming into the room. The latticed panes gave it a queer rhythmic pattern. A figure was sitting on the low window-sill, drooping a little sideways and softly twanging the string of a ukulele – not in a jazz rhythm, but in a far older rhythm, the beat of fairy horses riding on fairy hills.

An extreme case, but good grief. Interestingly, I had no idea ukuleles were fashionable in the 20s and 30s, but it sounds like they were a thing amongst the fashionable set.

The stories are an oddity in the Christie canon, probably better sampled one-by-one rather than all in a piece. As they progress, Satterthwaite gains in confidence and increasingly looks forward to Quin’s appearances and his chance to make a difference. But he is ultimately a tragi-comic figure. I felt let down by the final story which seems to wrap everything up but leaves him high and dry.


 

 

 

Agatha Christie
The Mysterious Mr Quin
First published 1930 by William Collins & Sons
This edition Penguin Books, 1953
Previously owned by ‘KMLH’, Baunkyle, Seaton, Devon
Final destination: A keeper

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Agatha Christie, Classic mystery book review, Cozy mystery book, Crime fiction of the year challenge, Crimes of the Century, Golden Age detection, Witness Statements and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Agatha Christie: The Mysterious Mr Quin

  1. Yes the Quin stories are a little odd and a good example of how Christie is sometimes more experimental when not using Poirot or Marple. Similar case can be made for the Parker Pyne stories, though Pyne is less odd than Quin, but they are both quite interested in solving human problems/ relationships rather than just crimes. On an random note I named one of my chickens Harlequin (due to his black and white chequered feathers). As of yet he has shown no predilection for solving mysteries or uniting lovers. Also you should send this link to the Agatha Christie blogathon tomorrow as that day of the blogathon is focusing on non-Poirot and Marple Christie stuff. Here is a link to the sign up page – so you can see if someone else has chosen the same subject (they’re trying to avoid duplicate posts you see, but can’t remember Quin having been chosen so you might be alright) and the sign up page will also tell you where to send your link to:
    https://christinawehner.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/announcing-the-agatha-christie-blogathon/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ravenking81 says:

    This has always been one of my favourite Christie books. There are two additional Mr. Quin stories later published in the collection “The Harlequin Tea Set” I believe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Santosh Iyer says:

      Yes, there are 2 additional Quin stories: The Harlequin Tea Set and The Love Detectives.
      The collection The Harlequin Tea Set And Other Stories contains only one of them, The Harlequin Tea Set. It is the last story in the collection.
      The other story The Love Detectives is available in the collection Three Blind Mice And Other Stories. It is also the last story in the collection.
      However, both stories are available in the collection Problem At Pollensa Bay.
      (The entire Agatha Christie books are available with me. Hence I was able to check)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brad says:

    I definitely have to be in the mood to read one of these stories, and my level of tolerance has diminished. But I really like Mr. Satterthwaite, and I’m grateful Christie gave him Three-Act Tragedy. I think he should have assisted Poirot more often.

    Like

  4. It’s a long time since I read these, but I remember loving them (however, I’m a bit of a Christie obsessive). Interesting how a Harlequin makes an appeared in Sayers’ “Murder Must Advertise” too. Time to revisit some Christie I think!

    Like

  5. I’m going to have to give these another chance! I read them once during a difficult time when a family member was very ill and that’s mostly what I seem to remember now. From your description, it sounds as if the melancholy tone of the book was probably not best suited for that time. 🙂 But I think I will appreciate it much more now.

    Thanks so much for helping us celebrate Agatha Christie!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: ‘And Then There Was No More’ – the Final Day of The Agatha Christie Blogathon Is Here – Little Bits of Classics

  7. Pingback: ‘A full account of how to make a jam omelette’: The #1930book round-up | Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

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