18 June 2009

Forgotten Books: Do you remember Mr Harley Quin?

This week's contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books.

I'm cheating a little this week, by talking about a book that I have in fact just read and reviewed, as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

With all the focus on Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, many readers of Agatha Christie novels may in fact never have met Mr Harley Quin and the man he mentored, Mr Satterthwaite, because he only made his appearance in short stories.

Mr Harley Quinn first appeared in 1930 in a set of 12 short stories called The Mysterious Mr Quin. The stories in the collection begin with "The Coming of Mr Quin", which introduces Mr Satterthwaite, and then describes his first meeting with Mr Quin. The stories appear to be in sequential order and connections flow from one to the other.

Some, but not all, of these stories had been published in various magazines during the 1920s before finally being collectively published in 1930.

In them Agatha Christie ventures into the world of the paranormal. Mr Quin often appears almost out of thin air (and later disappears the same way), but eventually Mr Satterthwaite comes to expect him to appear when a particularly puzzling mystery requires solving. Elsewhere Harley Quin has been referred to as a divine detective.

Strange tricks of light often make Mr Quin at first to seem to be in highly multicoloured clothes like the theatrical Harlequin.

Both Mr Quin and Mr Satterthwaite have a soft spot for the romantic too, and at times love triumphs in the end. It is a line that Agatha Christie has already explored in the early Hercule Poirot novels, when sometimes Poirot shows an avuncular interest in young women and intuitive perception of romance.

While Mr Satterthwaite makes a further appearance in a novel, THREE ACT TRAGEDY (1935), Mr Harley Quin appears in just two more stories in Problem at Pollensa Bay and never really as an independent character.

I found that the plots in these short stories were tightly woven and came over to me almost as a cross between the styles of Edgar Allan Poe and W. Somerset Maughan. At about 20 pages for most of stories they are eminently readable.

From the Christie site:
In her Autobiography, Agatha Christie listed the Harley Quin stories as her favorites and describes Harley Quin as "a friend of lovers and connected with death". The collection is dedicated by the author "To Harlequin the invisible" which makes it unique as no other Christie book is dedicated to a character.... Christie always claimed the Harley Quin stories were her personal favourites among all her short stories. Her inspiration for Quin came from her love of the theatre.

In 1928 the first story "The Coming of Mr Quin" became the first British film adaptation of one of Christie’s works, although the title was changed to The Passing of Mr Quinn.

More information:
Yesterday's Faces
The Gentle Art of Murder


pattinase (abbott) said...

Now this one is entirely new to me.

Kerrie said...

If you were like me in your original reading of Agatha Christie Patti, you read the novels and almost ignored the short stories

Jennwith4 said...

Love the Quinn stories. My favorite Christie books.


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