My Book Notes on Agatha Christie Other Detectives: Mr Quin and Mr Satterthwaite

Agatha Christie, in full Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, née Miller, is, in all likelihood, the world most famous mystery writer. Most people relates her name with two of her better known fictional characters, Monsieur Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. Two television series, Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple, have contributed to a large extent to this recognition. Poirot made his first appearance to the public in general in Christie’s novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) and he will be present in a total of 33 novels and close to 55 short stories and novellas –depending on which ones you’ll take into account. Miss Marple, her other main detective, first appeared in a short story “The Tuesday Night Club”, published in The Royal Magazine, December 1927, which later became the first chapter of The Thirteen Problems (1932). Her first appearance in a full-length novel was in The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930 and she participated in a total of 12 novels and 20 short stories, if my information is right. Rather less known are some of her other detectives, like Inspector Battle, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, and Ariadne Oliver, all them appeared in several of her books. However, it is well possible only a limited number of Christie’s die-hard fans are acquainted with Mr Satterthwaite and Mr Quin. These two characters appear together only in a small number of short stories, fourteen to be more precise.

Twelve short stories were initially collected in The Mysterious Mr Quin (1930). Then, Christie published two other short stories with the same characters, “The Harlequin Tea Set” and “The Love Detectives”, both included in the collection published in 1992 in the United Kingdom, Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories (1991). Finally, it can be pointed out, that Mr Satterthwaite features in two other Christie’s stories, the novella “Dead Man’s Mirror” –included in Murder in the Mews (1937) and the novel Three-Act Tragedy (1935). These fourteen short stories comprise a curious anomaly in Christie’s work, especially as they break with most of the conventions of the classic detective story. 

To begin with, Mr. Satterthwaite and Mr. Quin are essentially neutral agents. They are neither policemen nor detectives nor even amateur sleuths. Secondly, the process by which Mr. Quin and Mr. Satterthwaite arrive at the truth is quite different from Hercule Poirot’s ‘little grey cells’ or Jane Marple’s analogies between crime and life in her village. Fourteen times, Mr. Quin turns up unannounced in Mr. Satterthwaite’s life, perhaps before the crime, perhaps afterwards. His mere presence makes Mr Satterthwaite to see the mystery which lies in front of him in a different way, and thus he will be able to solve it. Mr Quin only performs the role of the catalyst that enhance Mr Satterthwaite’s powers of observation and sets him in motion.

In the Foreword to The Mysterious Mr Quin, Agatha Christie wrote: The Mr Quin stories were not written as a series. They were written one at a time at rare intervals. Mr Quin, I consider, is an epicure’s taste…: 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 an advocate for the dead. Though each story about him is quite separate, yet the collection, written over a period of years, outlines in the end of the story of Harlequin himself. With Mr Quin there has been created little Mr Satterthwaite, Mr Quin’s friend in the mortal world: Mr Satterthwaite, the gossip, the looker-on life, the little man who without ever touching the depths of joy and sorrow himself, recognizes dram when he sees it, and is conscious that he has a part to play. Of the Mr Quin stories, my favourite are: “The World’s End”, “The Man from the Sea”, and “Harlequin’s Lane”.

Inline_HarleyQuinBooks“The Coming of Mr Quin” (1923): ‘On a dark evening, Mr Harley Quin appears at the door of Royston Hall under the premise that his car has broken down. Once inside, he embarks upon the tragic tale of Royston Hall’s former occupants, leading to a dramatic change in the perceptions of the current inhabitants – but has Mr Quin’s revelation come too late?’ (Source: HarperCollins). “The Coming of Mr Quin“ was first published in the UK as “The Passing of Mr Quin” in Grand Magazine, March 1923, and then in the US under the title “Mr Quinn Passes By” in the March 1925 issue of Munsey’s Magazine. As “The Coming of Mr Quin” the story was included in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, published by Collins in 1930. It was adapted for film under it’s magazine title in 1928, directed by Julius Hagen and Leslie S. Hiscott. The film was later “novelised” in a recorded reading in 1929 by G. Roy McRae. The original short story was abridged and broadcast in 2009 as part of BBC Radio 4’s series of Afternoon Readings, performed by Martin Jarvis.

”The Shadow on the Glass” (1923): ‘When invited to Mr and Mrs Unkerton’s party in Greenway’s House, Mr Satterthwaite learns of a haunted window, which no matter how many times it is replaced always contains the image of a cavalier in a plumed hat. When gunshots are heard, Satterthwaite finds that two of the guests have been shot dead, which is shortly followed by a sighting of the cavalier in the newly-replaced window pane. Can Mr Quin shed light on the mystery?’(Source: HarperCollins). “The Shadow on the Glass was first published in the UK in Grand Magazine, October 1923. And it was later included in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, published by Collins in 1930. It has never been adapted.

”At the Bells and Motley” (1925): ‘After his car breaks down Mr. Satterthwaite takes refuge at an Inn and is pleasantly surprised when he finds Harley Quin staying there. With his subtle encouragement Satterthwaite dissects the bizarre disappearance of a newly wedded husband…’ (Source: HarperCollins). “At the Bells and Motley” was first published as “A Man of Magic” in Grand Magazine, November 1925. It later appeared in book form in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, published by Collins in 1930. The story was then abridged and broadcast in 2009 as part of BBC Radio 4’s series of Afternoon Readings, performed by Martin Jarvis.

“The Sign in the Sky” (1925): ‘A young man is sentenced to death for murder. Unconvinced of his guilt Mr Satterthwaite dines at his favourite restaurant only to find Harley Quin sat at his table. Encouraged by Quin, Satterthwaite is compelled to voyage to Canada and uncover the real murderer…’ (Source: HarperCollins). “The Sign in the Sky” was first published in the US in The Police Magazine, June 1925, then as “A Sign in the Sky” in Grand Magazine, July 1925. It later appeared in book form in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, published by Collins in 1930. The story was then abridged and broadcast in 2010 as part of BBC Radio 4’s series of Afternoon Readings, performed by Martin Jarvis.

”The Soul of the Croupier” (1926): ‘Whilst holidaying in Monte Carlo Mr Satterthwaite watches as a young American man falls in love with a mystifying Countess. When he bumps into Harley Quin they invite their new friends for an intimate dinner that reveals dark secrets about one of the guests…’ (Source: HarperCollins). “The Soul of the Croupier” was fist published in the US in Flynn’s Weekly, November 1926, and then as “The magic of Mr Quin No. 2: The Soul of the Croupier” in Storyteller magazine, January 1927. It later appeared in book form in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, published by Collins in 1930. The story was then abridged and broadcast in 2009 as part of BBC Radio 4’s series of Afternoon Readings, performed by Martin Jarvis.

”The Man from the Sea” (1929): ‘On the edge of a cliff Mr Satterthwaite meets a man who is determined to kill himself. The villa that sits on top of the cliff has always fascinated Satterthwaite, this time he cannot resist a peak and what he finds inside could even save a man’s life…’ (Source: HarperCollins). “The Man From the Sea” was first published in Britannia and Eve, October 1929. It later appeared in book form in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, published by Collins in 1930. The story was then abridged and broadcast in 2011 as part of BBC Radio 4’s series of Afternoon Readings, performed by Martin Jarvis.

”The Voice in the Dark” (1926): ‘Mr Satterthwaite turns detective thanks to his mysterious friend Mr Quin when a drowned woman appears to be haunting her family home…’ (Source: HarperCollins). “The Voice in the Dark” was first published in the Us in Flynn’s Weekly, December 1926, and then as “The Magic of Mr Quin No. 4: The Voice in the Dark” in Storyteller magazine, March 1927. It later appeared in book form in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, published by Collins in 1930. This story has never been adapted.

”The Face of Helen” (1927): ‘Mr Satterthwaite bumps into his old friend Mr Quin at the opera, where they spot a distressed-looking girl in the audience. Later, they discover that she is in real danger and decide to rescue her…’ (Source: HarperCollins). ”The Face of Helen” was first published as “The magic of Mr Quin No. 5: The Face of Helen” in Storyteller magazine, April 19927. And then in book form in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, published by Collins in 1930. The story was abridged for BBC Radio 4 and performed by Martin Jarvis in 2010.

“The Dead Harlequin” (1929): ‘When Mr Satterthswaite visits a new exhibit at the Harchester Galleries there is one painting with a male figure that bares a more than unusual likeness to a mysterious acquaintance of his, a Mr Quin. And with one bold move purchases the canvas on the spot, and in another invites the artist of ‘The Dead Harlequin’ to dine with him that night. The dinner gets off on the wrong foot with the artist emphatically disagreeing with most points and an empty place at the table ready for the mysterious Mr. Quin to arrive. Conversation soon turns to the setting of ‘The Dead Harlequin,’ the doomed and ghostly house, Charnley, where so many have perished under tragic circumstances. But when a new guest is announced, it is not the expected Mr Quin, but, famed stage comic actress Aspasia Glen, and she wants, above all else, that very painting. But, in the very moment he begins to explain she can’t have it a frantic telephone call from Alix Charnley herself interrupts them with the very same request. What is the meaning of the painting, and can it shed any light upon the grave happenings at Charnley.’ (Source: HarperCollins). “The Dead Harlequin” was first published in Grand Magazine, March 1929. It later appeared in book form in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, published by Collins in 1930. The story was abridged for BBC Radio 4 and performed by Martin Jarvis in 2011.

“The Bird with the Broken Wing” (1930): ‘When a game with a Ouija board spells out the name QUIN and the name of a place, Mr Satterthwaite’s instincts tell him that a murder is about to take place and that he should drop everything to investigate…’ (Source: HarperCollins). “The Bird with the Broken Wing” (1930) was published in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin by Collins, April 1930. No prior magazine publication has been located.

”The World’s End” (1926): ‘Mr Satterthwaite’s holiday in Corsica is unexpectedly interrupted by the appearance of his old friend Mr Quin, who has come to shed new light on the conviction of a jewel thief the year before…’ (Source: HarperCollins). ”The World’s End” was first published in the US as “World’s End” in Flynn’s Weekly, November 1926, and then as “The Magic Mr Quin No. 3: The World’s End” in Storyteller magazine, February, 1927. It later appeared in book form in the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, Collins in 1930. It has never been adapted.

”Harlequin’s Lane” (1927): ‘When two Russian dancers are injured in a car crash on the way to a performance at a masquerade, substitutes are quickly found so that the show can continue. But there is mysterious work at play that could put anyone in real danger…’ (Source: HarperCollins).”Harlequin’s Lane” was first published as “The Magic of Mr Quin No. 6: Harlequin’s Lane” in Storyteller magazine, May 1927. As the concluding story of the collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, published by Collins in 1930, it suggests more heavily the reader’s suspicion that Mr Satterthwaite is capable of seeing what others can’t. It was abridged as part of BBC Radio 4’s series of Afternoon Readings in 2011 and was performed by Martin Jarvis.

“The Harlequin Tea Set” (1971): ‘It’s been many years since Mr. Satterthwaite has seen Mr. Harley Quin, so when Satterthwaite, awaiting his broken down car, goes to a tea shop called the Harlequin café, he begins to think of his friend. A self-described snob, Satterthwaite orders coffee and examines the coloured china when a bolt of sunlight comes in and the very same Mr. Quin walks through the door. Enigmatic as ever Mr. Quin and his diligent dog Hermes stay for a Turkish coffee with the excitable Satterthwaite whilst the car is fixed, and Satterthwaite cannot help but bore Mr. Quin with the very long history of the family he is off to visit. Their conversation is interrupted by the abrupt entrance of the member of that very same family intent upon replacing her harlequin cups. Satterthwaite desperately persuades Quin to accompany him, but, all the bereft Satterthwaite is left with is one word, ‘Daltonism.’ What is the importance of Quin turning up at the tea shop on that day and what does that word have to do with anything, it all comes to make complete sense.’ (Source: HarperCollins). No magazine publication of this story has yet been traced. “The Harlequin Tea Set” was first published in the collection Winter’s Crime by Macmillan in 1971. It was the last of Agatha Christie’s short stories to be published, 48 years after “The Affair at the Victoria Ball” first appeared in The Sketch in 1923. It appeared in the collection Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories in 1991, and in the US it was included in The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories in 1997. It has never been adapted.

“The Love Detectives” (1926): ‘Mr. Satterthwaite and Colonel Melrose are comfortably ensconced in the Colonel’s study temperately listening to each other’s differing passions when the phone suddenly interrupts them. Someone has been murdered and the Colonel, the county chief constable, is going to let Satterthwaite accompany him to the scene of the crime. But, such differing fellows have, as imagined, rather opposing outlooks on why Sir James Dwighton has been bashed over the head with a blunt instrument. But when Mr. Quin appears, Satterthwaite is delighted as ever and soon regales him with his romantic impression of the facts at hand. In the ancient house of Alderly the red haired beauty Laura Dwighton and the couple’s guest, the very attractive Mr Paul Delangua have, rumour has it, engaged in an illicit affair and he has been thrown out by the disgruntled Sir James. But the facts of the murder all seem to add up too nicely and what’s more everyone is confessing to it.’ (Source: HarperCollins) Colonel Melrose features in two other Agatha Christie Stories. He was the Chief Constable in The Secret of Chimneys and The Seven Dials Mystery. This story was written around the same time as the stories included in The Mysterious Mr Quin. “The Love Detectives” was first published in the US as “At the Crossroads” in Flynn’s Weekly, October 1926, and then as “The Magic of Mr Quin No. 1: At the Crossroads” in Storyteller, December 1926. The plot has similarities to 1930 Miss Marple novel The Murder at the Vicarage. Retitled The Love Detectives, the story appeared in book form in the US in 1950 in Three Blind Mice and Other Stories and in the UK in Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories in 1991. It has never been adapted.

For my taste they are not all of the same literary quality. My favourite ones are: “The Coming of Mr Quin” (1923); ”The Shadow on the Glass” (1923); ”The Voice in the Dark” (1926); “The Love Detectives” (1926); “The Dead Harlequin” (1929); and“The Harlequin Tea Set” (1971) and that is as well my suggested reading order.

References:

Norell, Donna M. “Detective Fiction and Ultimate Reality: Agatha Christie, Mr. Satterthwaite and Mr. Quin” University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Published Online: April 24, 2018. https://utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/uram.32.2-3-4.183 Accessed 17 November 2020.

Wikipedia

HarperCollinsPublishers