Notes On The Mysterious Mr. Quin

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1930

Motive for Murder: Jealousy and Wealth

Plot: Harley Quin is a catalyst of truth concerning a crime. From a man who shot himself ten years ago to a Russian woman mysteriously drowned in a pond, his presence reveals various facts hidden in people’s gestures and remembrances.

Mr. Satterthewaite, the patron of Art, understands him. As a matter of fact, his meeting the other on an unusual occasion is perceived as a sign of help for lovers  and the dead. As he deals with each case, every time a facet of Mr. Quin emerges. Beyond his appearance and his coming and going mysteriously, Mr. Quin’s love for his ‘Columbine’ is the most important thing learnt.

The moment he appears, life’s dull moment to Mr. Satterthwaite vanishes.

 

Highlights:

In the book, Mr. Quin is invisible to everyone but Mr. Satterthwaite; he knows when Mr. Quin is around – or will be. This is not to say that Mr. Quin is an imaginary friend; in most cases people are bewildered that he appears as if it is a result of a magic trick.

Figurines from Harlequinade

Christie’s foreword about the tale of Harlequinade explains readers about her creating a Mr. Quin character. On the one hand, it is her fascination to the myth as a girl; Mr. Quin,the zanni in commedia dell’arte that stands in the mantelpiece of Clarissa Miller’s along with the others (see the illustration on the right). I wonder why Harlequin among the figures; was being the invisible considered attractive to Christie?   

Twelve short stories based on Harlequinade with varied crimes as the main course is a depart from the previous books published. At that time the authoress has moved on from writing ghost stories to crime. Yet, it does not mean those two genres are independent from one another as seen in some of the stories with a brush of superstition and an air of mystery in them, ie. The Shadow On The Glass, The Voice In The Dark and The Sign In The Sky. Moreover, she splashes romance into the mixture to toe the line with Harlequin by highlighting the relationship problems.

In terms of the setting, Christie’s fondness of travelling, theatre/play and mingling with people brings Mr. Satterthwaite to meet Mr. Quin in different countries in which Mr. Satterthwaite’s shrewd observation and quiet wits are the main factors in solving a case.

What would become Harley Quin in the end? Would he find the answer he had been looking for?

I have found it is most interesting how Christie shapes Mr. Quin’s identity in the plot. He helps lovers in trouble but he is also the advocate of the dead. These contradicting traits in a major character are common in Christie’s work; yet personally they are confusing. Particularly with the final story Harlequin’s Lane, in which Anna Kharsanova’s death is a bewildering: did she drown herself or somebody pushed her head in the water?  Most importantly, did Mr. Quin do it?

Commedia dell’Arte characters

The most mysterious story to the best of my knowledge is The Man From The Sea. Here is Mr. Quin admits the loss of love as a result of pomposity and too proud to oneself. As far as I am concerned, from what he tells Mr. Satterthwaite, he is dead to the woman he used to love. Having understood that another man has replaced him, Mr. Quin decides to prevent the other man to take his own life –out of desperation, for he thought the woman had died. Perhaps an act of repentance on the part of Mr. Quin after many years. Or did he just know about the other man?

There is more than meets the eye in the book. Each story is equally intriguing and personal. It seems to me Christie has given herself away a lot, revealing a little from the depth of her mind her remembrances about hurtful events in her life. Perhaps it is her desire to move on and a favourite tale of hers has become a medium to send the message to the world.

Concerning love she discusses in the stories the lurking danger of being infatuated and blinded by ‘a cast spelt over one’ and jealousy. Also, she draws a line between wealth and love and vice versa. If anything, Anna Kharsanova’s words lingers in my head. ‘For ten years I have lived with the man I love. Now I am going to the man who for ten years have loved me.’

Mr. Quin’s presence does not necessarily mean a murder happened. In The Face Of Helen, he gives hints to Mr. Satterthwaite in preventing a killing. It is my most favourite story; not because Christie’s criticism about the sheer beauty of a woman’s that ruins another but the almost perfect plot of the  murderer using precise timing and gas. Clever.

To conclude, I highly recommend the book for life in retrospect. For writers, the stories are the unpolished germs, which provide possibilities to be a respective novel in its own right. Learn from a woman who pulls it off very well.

The Twists: (one for each case in the order of appearance)

  1. Derek Capel sees a constable from the window of his room and believes that he has come to take him as the main suspect in the Appleton case
  2. Richard Scott is still in love with Iris Saverton
  3. The art objects at Ashley Grange are stolen from France
  4. Sir George Barnaby winds up the clocks in his house every Friday
  5. M. Pierre Vaucher is Countess Czarnoza’s ex-husband
  6. Anthony Cosden thought the English woman as Spaniard
  7. Beatrice Barron is not dead when the shipliner “Uralia” sank off the coast of New Zealand forty years ago
  8. Philip Eastney sends a four-falve wireless set as a wedding present for Gillian West and Charles Burns
  9. Alix Charnley thought that her late husband was having an affair with a maid before shooting himself
  10.  Roger Graham is about to break up her affair with Mabelle Annesley on the night she dies
  11. Naomi Smith is Alec Gerard’s fiancée, of whom Rosina Nunn has accused of having stolen her opal
  12.  Anna Derman is thought dead in Bolshevik Revolution by Sergius Ivanovitch

 

Cast of Characters: (featuring Mr. Quin and Mr. Satterthwaite)

  1. The Coming of Mr. Quin:

    Columbine and Harlequin dance in the last story of the book – Harlequin’s Lane. Anna Derman (nee Kharsanova) as Columbine and Mr. Quin as Harlequin.

The New Year Party guests at Royston:

-Lady Laura Keene

-the Portals (Alex Portal and his Australian wife, Eleanor)

-Sir Richard Conway

-Tom Evesham (Derek Capel’s old friend, who was in the house when Capel committed suicide)

 

2. The Shadow On The Glass:

The guests at the Unkertons’ party:

–         Lady Cynthia Drage

–         Mrs. Iris Staverton

–         Captain Jimmy Allenson (Moira’s lover)

–         Major John Porter

–         Moira Scott (Richard’s young wife, whom he met in Egypt)

–         Richard Scott (Iris’s ex-lover)

–         Mr. And Mrs. Unkerton (the party host)

–         Inspector Winkfield

 

3.At The ‘Bells and Motley’:

–         The garage man (to whom Masters brought in the car with a flat tyre)

–         Mary Jones (William’s daughter)

–         Masters (Mr. Satterthwaite’s driver)

–         William Jones (Mary’s father, the proprietor of ‘Bells and Motley’ Inn)

 

4. The Sign In The Sky

-Mr. Denman

– Louisa Bullard ( a maid at the Barnabys)

– Sylvia Dale (the defendant’s girlfriend)

 

5. The Soul of The Cropier

–   Countess Czarnova (from the pearl of Bosnia, unknown origin)

–   Elizabeth Martin (American, Franklin’s friend)

–   Franklin Rudge (American, Elizabeth’s friend)

–   M. Pierre Vaucher (a croupier at a Monte Carlo casino)

 

6. The Man From The Sea

-Anthony Cosden (of whom Mr. Satterthwaite meets in the garden of La Paz)

-The English woman

 

7. The Voice In The Dark

-Alice Clayton (a long-standing maid in the family)

-Lady Barbara Stranleigh (nee Barron, the younger sister of Beatrice)

-Margery Gale (Lady Barbara’s daughter)

-Marcia Keane (the Lady maid)

-Roley Vavasour (Margery’s cousin)

 

8. The Face of Helen

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) – English dramatist, poet and translator in the Elizabethan era. ‘The Face of Helen’: Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships, And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies! Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again. Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips, And all is dross that is not Helena. I will be Paris, and for love of thee, Instead of Troy, shall Wittenberg be sack’d; And I will combat with weak Menelaus, And wear thy colours on my plumed crest; Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel, And then return to Helen for a kiss. O, thou art fairer than the evening air Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars; Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter When he appear’d to hapless Semele; More lovely than the monarch of the sky In wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms; And none but thou shalt be my paramour!

– Charles Burns (Gillian’s fiancé)

-Gillian West (an amateur singer)

-Philip Eastney (Gillian’s old friend, who helps her in her singing career)

 

9. The Dead Harlequin:

– Alix Charnley (the wife of the late Lord Charnley)

– Apasia Glen (an actress, an ex-maid of the Charnleys; alias Monica Ford)

–         Mr. Cobb (a dignitary at a gallery where Mr Satterthwaite buys a picture of “The Dead Harlequin”)

–         Frank Bristow (the artist, of whom he made the picture at the Terrace Room in the Charnleys’ residence)

–         Colonel Monkton (Mr. Satterthwaite and Lord Charnley’s friend, who was at the house when the other shot himself)

 

10. The Bird With The Broken Wing

The party at Laidell:

–         David Keeley(the host, Madge’s father, a brilliant mathematician)

–         Gerald Annesley (Mabelle’s husband)

–         Mabelle Annesley (Gerald’s wife, of whom Madge’s man falls in love with)

–         Madge Keeley (David’s daughter, who invites Mr. Satterthwaite to Laidell)

–         Mrs. Graham (Madge’s fiance’s mother)

–         Roger Graham (Madge’s Mr. Right)

 

11. The World’s End:

– The Duchess (Mr. Satterthwaite’s travel companion to Corsica)

-Helen Judd (Rosina’s husband)

-Naomi Carlton Smith (an artist, the Duchess’s relative)

-Rosina Nunn (an actress)

-Mr. Tomlinson

-Mr. Vyse (a producer)

 

12.Harlequin’s Lane:

-Anna Denman (a.k.a Anna Kharsanova, Russian, a legend ballerina)

-Claude Wickam (a music composer)

– John Denman (the host)

– Molly Stanwell (John’s lover)

-Sergius Ivanovitch (Kharsanova’s ex-lover)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mr. Quin

Readers, I suppose it is obvious from the title.

 

Clues:

  1. The Coming of Mr. Quin: Sir Richard Conway to Mr. Quin, Evesham, Mr. Satterthwaite and Alex Portal:

 

‘Astounding – that’s what it was (the death of Derek Capel). Here’s a man in the prime of life, gay, light-hearted, without a care in the world. Five or six old pals staying with him. Top of his spirits at dinner, full of plans for the future. And from the dinner table he goes straight upstairs to his room, takes a revolver from a drawer and shoots himself. Why?  A Nobody ever knew. Nobody ever will know.’

 

2. The Shadow On The Glass: Mr. Satterthwaite to everyone attending the party:

 

‘I believe the original story centres around a Cavalier ancestor of the Elliott family. His wife had a Roundhead lover. The husband was killed by the lover in an upstairs room, and the guilty pair fled. But as they fled, they looked back at the house and saw the face of the dead husband at the window, watching them. That is the legend, but the ghost story is only concerned with a pane of glass in the window of that particular room on which is an irregular stain, almost imperceptible from near at hand, but which from far away certainly gives the effect of a man’s face looking out.’

 

3. At The ‘Bells and Motley’ : Mr. Satterthwaite to Mr. Quin:

 

‘It was just over a year ago that Ashley Grange passed into the possession of Miss Eleanor De Grange. It is a beautiful old house, but it had been neglected and allowed to remain empty over the years. It could not have found a better chatelaine. Miss Le Coteau was a French Canadian, her forebears were émigrés from the French Revolution, and had handed down to her a collection of almost priceless French relics and antiques. She was a buyer and a collector also, with avery fine and discriminating taste. So much so, that when she decided to sell Ashley Grange and everything it contained after the tragedy, Mr. Cyrus G. Bradburn, the American millionaire, made no bones about paying the fancy price of sixty thousand pounds for the Grange as it stood.’

 

4. The Sign In The Sky: Louisa Bullard to Mr. Satterthwaite:

‘I was in my room, sir, changing my dress, and I happened to glance out of the window. There was a train going along, and the white smoke of it rose up in the air, and if you’ll believe me it formed itself into the sign of a gigantic hand……”That’s a sign of something coming” – and sure enough at that very minute I heard the shot….’

 

5. The Soul of the Cropier: M. Pierre Vaucher to an audience of a supper party:

[telling the story of his life until he decides to become a cropier]

‘…..His lungs had been affected by gas [during the Great War], they said he must find work in the South. Suffice it to say he ended up as a cropier,and there – there in the Casino one evening, he saw her again- the woman who had ruined his life. She did not recognize him but he recognized her. She appeared to be rich and to lack for nothing –but messieurs, the eyes of a cropier are sharp. There came an evening when she placed the last stake in the world on the table. Ask me not how I know- I know- one feels these things…’

 

6. The Man From The Sea: the English woman to Mr. Satterthwaite:

[the first part of the story of her life]

‘If you are here long, somebody will tell you of the English swimmer who was drowned at the foot of this cliff. They will tell you how young ang strong he was, how handsome, and they will tell you that his young wife looked down from the top of the cliff and saw him drowning.’

‘That man was my husband. This was his villa. He brought me out here with him when I was eighteen, and a year later he died – driven by the surf of the black rocks, cut and bruised and mutilated, battered to death.’

 

7. The Voice In The Dark: Clayton to Mr. Satterthwaite:

‘I have never heard anything of the house being haunted. To tell you the truth, Sir, I thought it was all Miss Margery’s imagination until last night. But I actually felt something – brushing by me in the darkness. And I can tell you this, sir, it was not anything human. And then there is that wound in Miss Margery’s neck…’

 

8. The Face of Helen: Gillian West to Mr. Satterthwaite:

‘I dreaded telling Phil about Charles. It was silly of me. I ought to have known Phil better. He was upset, of course, but no one could have been sweeter. Really sweet he was. Look what he sent me this morning – a wedding present. Isn’t it magnificent?’

 

9. The Dead Harlequin: Frank Bristow to Aspasia Glen:

‘…Something about the place – about Charnley, I mean, took hold of my imagination. The big empty room. The terrace outside, the ideas of ghosts and things, I suppose. I have just been hearing the tale of the last Lord Charnley, who shot himself.  Supposing you are dead, and your spirit lives on? It must be odd, you know. You might stand outside on the terrace looking in at the window at your own dead body, and you would see everything.’

 

10. The Bird With The Broken Wing: Roger Graham to Mr. Satterthwaite:

‘…I couldn’t have killed Mabelle. I-I loved her. Or didn’t I? I don’t know. It’s a tangle that I can explain. I’m fond of Madge – I always have been. And she’s such a good sort. We suit each other. But Mabelle was different. It was – I can’t explain it- a sort of enchantment. I was, I think- afraid of her.’

 

11. The World’s End: Rosina Nunn’s to an audience at a camp in The World’s End:

 

‘….The opal had was lying on the dressing-table. He’d been out in Australia and he knew something about opals. He took it over to the light to look at it. I suppose he must have slipped it into his pocket then. I missed it as soon as he’d gone….’

‘They found the empty cases in his rooms. He’d been terribly hard-up, but the very next day he was able to pay large sums into his bank. He pretended to account for it by saying that a friend of his had put some money on a horse for him, but he couldn’t produce the friend. He said he must have put the case in his pocket by mistake….’

 

12. Harlequin’s Lane: Mr. Satterthwaite to Mr. Quin:

[about Anna Derman and Sergius Ivanovitch]

 

‘The same old drama. I am right, am I not? Those two belong together. They are of the same world, think the same thoughts, dream the same dreams…One sees how it has come about. Ten years ago Denman must have been very good-looking, young, dashing, a figure of romance. And he saved her life. All quite natural. But now – what is he, after all? A good fellow- prosperous, successful- but well- mediocre, Good Honest English Stuff, very much like Hepplewhite furniture upstairs. As English – and as ordinary- as that pretty English girl with her fresh untrained voice…’

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