Updated: Mar 3, 2020
This book was first published in 1930. I wasn't born until decades afterward. But, Christie is my favorite author. I love how her works do not have psychopath or killers who kill for fun. There is always a motive, a reason, and a strong storyline.
There is one book of hers I completely fell in love with. It is The Mysterious Mr. Quin. I was suggested to read this book by a fellow Christie fan when we were playing the Agatha Christie game on her website. Yes, they run amazing games occasionally for the fans.
I was curious about the book. The library had the book, but some of the pages were gone. Finally, after more than a year, I found a copy in the book exhibition. Rereading the first few stories made me realize how new and fresh they still feel even after all these years.
There are twelve stories in the book. Each story happens after the other with different time periods. The main characters are Mr. Satterthwaite, a dried-up, thin old man in his sixties and the mysterious Mr. Quin who comes and goes as he pleases.
The stories vary in the nature of the crimes. Some occur when Mr. Satterthwaite would be present while some crimes are solved years after they have been committed.
The book starts with Christie dedicating it to Harlequin the Invisible. The first story is set on New Year's Eve. Mr. Sattherthwaite is spending it in Royston with some friends. Though the narrative is in the third person, the focus is his point of view (POV). We get to see the people around him from his perspective.
Mr. Sattherthwaite thrives on drama; not the dramatic kind, but the subtle shift of emotions, the unexplainable tension in the surroundings, the unspoken words. He calls a listener and a watcher who is a part of the act, yet not fully involved. With the entry of Mr. Quin exactly after the midnight which is considered as a good omen, Mr. Satterthwaite finds himself drawn to the aura around the mystery man.
Mr. Quin is described as a tall, thin, dark man with angular, sharp features. He prefers to sit in the dark while a myriad of colors dances on his suits reminding Mr. Satterthwaite of the Harlequin from the Italian Commedia dell'arte.
His presence brings out the hidden energy from Mr. Satterthwaite. Excitement runs in his otherwise bored veins. He finds himself connecting the dots and finding solutions to the problem placed in front of him. After the first case where Mr. Quin helps in proving a woman innocent (not that she was found guilty, but the doubt loomed over her head like a sword) by manipulating the members of the household to think in the right direction, Mr. Satterwhaite is impressed. He keeps searching for Mr. Quin wherever he goes.
Even a mention of Quin's name works as a hint for Mr. Satterthwaite to realize that he has a role to play, a job to do. We can notice that the stories revolve around lovers who have been separated for some reason or the other. The social class is no barrier.
Not many works of Christie have a romantic theme. Even if present, it does not always play the main role. This book is an exception. There is hardly any romance, but the stories revolve around the lovers. The emotions are natural, i.e., the characters act like the people during her time did. The book was, after all, set in the early 1900s.
The third story deals with a past crime; a disappearance of one character and another is accused of murder. By finding the solution, Mr. Sattherthwaite gives hope to the inn owner's daughter who is in love with the accused.
The fourth story, The Sign in the Sky is a jealous husband murdering his wife and shifting the blame on a man whom she fancied. There is one small point that appears insignificant, which holds the key to solving the case. As Mr. Astterthwaite says more than once, it is Quin who makes him see the truth he already knew.
The concept of "it's all is about perception" is the theme of this book. When some time has lapsed, the perspective of a person changes. They see things from a wider angle. They are capable of entertaining the notions which they previously considered insane. It's similar to being a distant audience rather than a participant. It enables them to be rational and even solve a mystery which they previously could not.
What I love most apart from the writing style is the subtle atmosphere she weaves around the readers. The presence of something more than human is evident in the stories, although It may or may not be sinister. The atmosphere is not just limited to the book. It manages to seep into the real world by enveloping the reader.
If The Soul of the Croupier deals with the life of a woman who had men dancing to her tunes and The Man from the Sea is about how second chances can change lives. Be it the natural settings like the cliffs, the sea, the beaches, or the houses, Christie owns the stage when her characters waltz onto it with perfection.
It is tough to choose one story as a favorite. Each one has intricacies that make the story unique in its own way. The Dead Harlequin exposes the truth of a murder which was declared suicide years ago with the help of a painting by a young man. The man himself has no idea about the crime. He gets inspired by the atmosphere in the house in visits. Mr. Satterthwaite, a connoisseur of paintings, purchases it when he sees a resemblance between the character in the painting and Quin.
The Bird with the Broken Wing to deals with a similar storyline, except the murder happens almost under Mr. Satterthwaite's nose.
The World's End ends with giving hope to a woman. But, it leaves the readers and Mr. Satterthwaite with a sense of unease as Quin walks away into nothing. He does that more than once in the previous stories, but in this story, it appears as a sign of something.
The last story is titled, Harlequin Lane. It is also called the Lover's Lane. Quin says the lane belongs to him. There is a performance of the Commedia dell'arte where Quin plays the role of Harlequin.
The book ends with Quin vanishing for the last time after the death of Russian dancer who left her stage life and identity to live with a man she loved. Mr. Satterthwaite feels cheated by her death. He comprehends she has achieved something he couldn't. The curtain drops with him saying that he has always seen things others did not and Quin stated that more than once.
He gets no response. It leaves the reader with mixed emotions. I know I'm going to reread the book many times in the coming years.
About the Author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.