The Mysterious Mr. Quin, by Agatha Christie
A conjurer of skill with an instinct for detection, Mr. Harley Quin has an almost magical flair for appearing at the scene of the most remarkable crimes. But is it just a trick of light that haunts his shadow with a ghostly apparition? Is it fate that invites him to a New Year’s Eve murder? And what forces are at work when his car breaks down outside Royston Hall, an isolated estate with a deadly history?
The Mysterious Mr. Quin is a collection of 12 short stories featuring little Mr. Satterthwaite and Mr. Harley Quin, a mysterious man that Mr. Satterthwaite meets for the first time in “The Coming of Mr. Quin”, the first story in the collection.
Unlike Christie’s other mysteries, the stories involving Mr. Quin and Mr. Satterthwaite are not always pure mysteries, although in most of them, a puzzle presents itself to Mr. Satterthwaite, who, with the help of Mr. Quin’s questions and general guidance, eventually hones in on the solution. Most assuredly, though, these stories are not at all like Hercule Poirot exercising his little gray cells, or Miss Marble using her knowledge of village life to unravel the mystery.
The Mr. Quin stories are among my favorite Christie stories. Mr. Quin represents a touch of otherworldliness, a gentle dip into the world of the paranormal. At the end of the collection, while we still cannot say with any certainty who Mr. Quin really is, we do have a pretty good idea that he is not like other men, that he is not really human.
I am also very fond of dapper little Mr. Satterthwaite, that keen observer of life who, under Mr. Quin’s guidance, begins to find in himself the ability to see beneath the surface and understand the true reality of a situation. There is a kindness and gentleness to him that’s very appealing, and there is something so charming in his delight when he encounters the mysterious Quin in each story.
As with most of Christie’s works, there’s often more than a hint of romance. The stories also have a more modern feel to them; for example, in one story, involving an illegitimate child, the child’s mother is depicted as an admirable woman, rather than one who’s wandered down a wayward path. In another tale, a character is encouraged to seek out the woman of his dreams, despite the fact that, unlike him, she is a member of the upper class.
My favorite story is probably “The Man From the Sea”, involving a mystery that’s not about crime as much as it is about life and love; it’s probably better described as a love story that’s wrapped in a cloak of mystery.
In this reread of The Mysterious Mr. Quin, I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Hugh Fraser, a superb reader who brings all the characters to life.