Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie (1930)

I found these stories really odd.  They were all previously published in the pulp magazines of the time, throughout the 1920s, then gathered together in a book in 1930.  Each story has sort of a supernatural tinge to it.  Mr. Harley Quin isn't really a detective in the sense that Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple are detectives.  Rather, he is like some sort of otherworldly influence on this older gentleman, Mr. Satterthwaite; he suddenly appears and give Mr. Sattertwaite clues as to how to solve rather strange mysteries. He's like something Neil Gaiman created, sort of like Batman crossed with Death.   It's all very weird, and quite definitely not my favorite Agatha Christie stories (although I've read that they were her favorites and Harley Quin was her favorite character about which to write).  The significance of the harlequin has evaded me; I think I would have to read up much more on the commedia dell'arte that I'm interested in doing for a book I found not exactly riveting.

What Agatha Christie does well in her short stories is simple character sketches, and she's definitely got some great ones in each and every story.  Her actresses, Duchesses, bright young things, American tourists, Russian ballerinas, etc. etc. are always so simply drawn, but stand out, like dark, black strokes on dazzling white paper.  Mr. Satterthwaite grows and changes as the years progress, and in thinking about it, becomes quite an interesting character.

Interestingly, these stories are far less slangy, and also contain very little French; I didn't have to look up nearly as much as usual.

The Mysterious Mr. Quin (Harley Quin, #1)The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Certainly not my favorite Agatha Christie stories, although I've read that Harley Quin was her favorite character about which to write. Dame Agatha wrote these stories throughout the 1920s and published them in various pulp magazines; they were gathered together in book form in 1930. There is a supernatural tinge; Mr. Harley Quin isn't really a detective, but sort of this cross between Batman and Death (or maybe Fate); it's all very Neil Gaimanish (perhaps Neil Gaiman's great-grandmother is a better description). "Wherever Mr. Quin showed himself - there lay drama" is a line from one of the stories, and that's basically the theme. Harley Quin is sort of the fulcrum by which another character, Satterthwaite, solves the mysteries presented in each story. Quin is based on the Harlequin character from the commedia dell'arte and English pantomime, but why that was significant enough to Christie to create this character really escaped me. The stories written in the latter part of the 1920s seem to be better; I imagine the longer Christie wrote, the more she honed her craft.


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