The Mysterious Mr Quin by Agatha Christie

Have you met Mr Satterthwaite and his mysterious friend, Mr Harley Quin? I hadn’t, until I saw that the book selected for Read Christie 2019 this month was The Mysterious Mr Quin, a collection of short stories published in 1930 and featuring a very unusual sort of detective. In fact, he is not really a detective at all, but more of a catalyst who “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…”

There are twelve stories in the collection, all of which originally appeared separately in various magazines throughout the 1920s. They all stand alone as individual mysteries but reading them in the order they appear in the book is very effective as each one seems to build on the one before – and the twelfth story, Harlequin’s Lane, should definitely be read last.

The first story, The Coming of Mr Quin, sets the tone for the rest of the book. It begins with Mr Satterthwaite, an elderly English gentleman, attending a New Year’s Eve party at a country house when conversation turns to the suicide of Derek Capel, the former owner of the house. The suicide took place several years earlier, but is still unexplained. In the middle of this discussion, there is a knock at the door and Mr Satterthwaite’s friend Harley Quin appears, asking for shelter while his broken-down car is repaired. Mr Quin joins in the conversation and, by prompting Satterthwaite to ask relevant questions and to think carefully about the sequence of events, the truth behind Mr Capel’s death suddenly becomes obvious – and has important implications for some of the guests at the party that night.

Most of the other stories, with one or two exceptions, follow a similar format: Mr Satterthwaite is at a house party, an opera, on holiday, or attending some other sort of social gathering with his upper-class friends, when he becomes aware that one or more of his companions is hiding a secret – a criminal past, a thwarted love affair or an involvement in a murder. Mr Quin then makes a sudden appearance (sometimes in person and sometimes by leaving a message or cryptic clue) and steers Mr Satterthwaite in the right direction, enabling him to solve the mystery. Some of these mysteries have been unsolved for many years and Mr Quin claims that he is acting as an ‘advocate for the dead’, getting justice for long-ago victims of crimes, while also helping Mr Satterthwaite to influence people’s lives in the present.

Although Mr Satterthwaite is a rich man, with a comfortable, privileged lifestyle, I found him quite a sad and lonely character. He has never married and despite his busy social life his friendships seem to be mainly on a superficial level. He describes himself as a ‘looker-on at life’, someone who observes other people’s dramas without being involved in any himself. If it wasn’t for the fact that other characters in the book see and interact with Mr Quin, I could have believed that Mr Satterthwaite had invented him as an imaginary friend. There is certainly something surreal and otherworldly about Mr Quin, with his unexpected arrivals and departures, and the way his appearances are usually accompanied by a strange trick of the light – he is seen silhouetted against the setting sun, standing in front of a stained glass window, or illuminated by the sun shining through the trees.

This is the only collection of Mr Quin stories, although I think he and Mr Satterthwaite do make one or two appearances in other books or stories. I found this book quite different from anything else I’ve read by Christie and I’m loving the way taking part in this challenge is encouraging me to pick up titles I might otherwise have ignored in favour of the more popular Poirots and Marples.

32 thoughts on “The Mysterious Mr Quin by Agatha Christie

  1. heavenali says:

    I’m not sure if I have ever read these stories, but they sound excellent. Mr Quinn sounds like a fascinating character and I like the idea of one story building on to the next.

  2. lauriebrown54 says:

    I read this book (or another collection of Quinn stories; not sure) when I was a teenager and found it fascinating. I wasn’t a huge fan of regular mysteries, but the Quinn stories had just enough feeling of…. well, that Quinn wasn’t quite the ordinary mortal. I *did* wonder at times if he was real or an imaginary friend or perhaps a spirit!

    • Helen says:

      I can see how someone who wasn’t really a mystery fan could still enjoy this book…it’s so different from most of Christie’s others. Mr Quin is certainly mysterious!

    • Helen says:

      Maybe some of the stories have appeared in other books as well as this one. This collection is definitely worth reading if you haven’t already.

  3. Margaret says:

    This is my favourite of her short story collections, containing some of her very best short stories. In her Autobiography Agatha Christie said these stories were her favourites too. I think it’s a mystifying collection of stories and I enjoyed it immensely.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read many of Christie’s short story collections yet, but this is the best I’ve read so far. It’s good to know that they were her favourites too!

    • Helen says:

      It wasn’t really what I had expected either. I think I prefer her more conventional mystery novels, but I did enjoy this book as well.

    • Helen says:

      I hadn’t heard of it until it was chosen for the reading challenge I’m taking part in. If you’re a Christie fan I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

  4. BookerTalk says:

    I’ve not heard of these stories. I’m not a short story fan but my sister who is a Christie aficionado would probably love them (birthday present solved!)

    • Helen says:

      It’s certainly not one of Christie’s better known books. If your sister is a fan I think this would make a perfect birthday present. 🙂

  5. FictionFan says:

    I was never a fan of Mr Quinn but I was very fond of Mr Satterthwaite and liked that he turned up once or twice in the other, more mainstream, books. I’m glad you’re enjoying reading beyond Poirot and Miss Marple – Christie tried out lots of different things and they do tend to get overlooked.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I had become quite fond of Mr Satterthwaite by the end of the book too. I don’t think I’ve come across him yet in any other Christie books, but I’ll look forward to meeting him again. 🙂

  6. Jo says:

    Not a book I have read. I have just caught up with Dumb Witness and will endeavour to see if this book is on my mums shelf. I do like a Christie short story, she did manage to write them well.

    • Helen says:

      I’m not a huge fan of short stories, but I think there are a few authors who write them very well and Christie is one of them. I hope your mum has this book on her shelf.

  7. Farah says:

    I really like the Satterwaithe + Quin short stories. My favourite is the last story in the collection, the one with the Lover’s Lane. I loved the ending.

    What did you make of the mystery of Mr. Quin himself?

    *****Potential spoilers below*****

    The personification of Death or Love? Or something else entirely?

    • Helen says:

      I enjoyed most of the stories in this collection, but I agree that the last story was one of the best.

      As for Mr Quin, I think maybe he was supposed to represent different things to different people. I’m thinking of the end of the story “The World’s End” where one of the characters draws a picture of him and says that’s the way she sees him. Really, though, I’m not sure! He’s a truly mysterious character.

  8. elmediat says:

    Ran across these stories when I was a teenager, off in another century, fascinating tales. Edward D. Hoch’s mysterious detective, Simon Ark, is another character like Mr. Quin. He pops up during strange mysteries. Always bumps into the same fellow ( narrator), who happens to be there, and then actively helps solve the crime. Ark appears to be an ordinary man in his sixties, tall and stout, but many of the stories contain suggestions that he is actually over 2000 years old, a Coptic priest who travels the world looking for evil.

  9. Valesha says:

    I admit that I am a diehard Sherlock Holmes fan.

    However, I am a bit of an Agatha Christie fan too and have enjoyed a few of her Poirot stories. A.B.C Murders, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, and Cards on the Table are my favorites of the Poirot bunch.

    However, the Mr. Quin stories are the ones I always come back to. It’s so refreshing and intriguing each and every time. With Poirot, I already know whodunit and how, so the proverbial thrill is gone.

    It’s not just Quin that keeps me invested, it’s the way Christie plays it all out. Every time I reread the Quin tales, I am mystified and moved by them. (The ending to Harlequin Tea Set is too beautiful for words!)

    Mr. Quin and Satterthwaite are my favorite investigative team. (Well, Quin never owns up to his contributions, but we know it’s them together.) I love them just as much as Holmes and Watson. (Not in any pairings mind you. I don’t “ship” characters unless it’s canon.)

    I believe that Mr. Harley Quin is a spirit. Lonely Mr. Satterthwaite can’t seem to make him stay for long, but it’s the nature of a spirit, to come and go. No fixed place to stay.
    It’s also why Mr. S is so positively tickled to encounter Quin: he’s the most constant source of “life” for him. His other “friends” are mere acquaintances.
    I do feel sad for Mr. S too. The one person who gave him a new outlook on life can’t stay for long!

    Sorry for the long post, but it’s so difficult to find admirers of the Quin stories! These stories are criminally underrated. It overjoys me to come across fellow fans!

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