Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition by Thomas Derrick

The Mysterious Mr Quin is a short story collection written by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by William Collins & Sons on 14 April 1930 and in the U.S. by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6)

Each chapter or story involves a separate mystery that is solved through the interaction between the characters of Mr Satterthwaite, a socialite, and the eponymous Mr Quin who appears almost magically at the most opportune moments and disappears just as mysteriously. Satterthwaite is a small, observant man who is able to wrap up each mystery through the careful prodding and apposite questions of Quin, who serves as a catalyst every time the men meet.

In Agatha Christie's Autobiography, she claims that Quin and Satterthwaite became two of her favourite characters. The latter character reappeared in the 1935 novel, Three Act Tragedy. Outside of this collection, Quin appeared in two further short stories The Harlequin Tea Set and The Love Detectives which were both included in the 1992 UK collection Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories. In the US, the former story appeared as the title story in the 1997 collection The Harlequin Tea Set and the latter in the earlier 1950 collection Three Blind Mice and Other Stories.

The Love Detectives, The Harlequin Tea Set, Three Act Tragedy (a Poirot story in which Satterthwaite makes an appearance) and Dead Man's Mirror were included in the collection The Complete Quin and Satterthwaite: Love Detectives (UK, HarperCollins; ISBN 978-0-00-717115-6).

Content[edit | edit source]

Literary significance and reception[edit | edit source]

The Times Literary Supplement review of 29 May 1930 failed to comment on the merits of the book, confining itself to summarising the relationship between Quin and Satterthwaite and concluding that the latter is helped, "to solve old mysteries, sometimes to restore happiness to the unfortunate, and sometimes to see, if not avert, impending tragedy".

The New York Times Book Review of 4 May 1930 started by saying, "To call the tales in this collection detective stories would be misleading. For all of them deal with mystery and some of them with crime, they are, nevertheless, more like fairy tales." The anonymous reviewer described Mr. Satterthwaite and Mr. Quin and their relationship to the stories and each other and then concluded "The book offers a rare treat for the discriminating reader."

In the Daily Express (25 April 1930), Harold Nicolson said, "Mr. Quinn and Mr. Satterthwaite are, to me, new characters, and I should like much more of them. Mrs. Christie always writes intelligently, and I enjoyed these stories as much as any she has written."

Robert Barnard: "An odd collection, with the whimsical-supernatural element strong, though not always unpleasing. There are some notably dreadful stories (Bird with the Broken Wing, Voice in the Dark) but the unusual number of erudite or cultural references bears witness to Christie's own opinion of these stories – they were aimed more 'up-market' than usual." 

References and allusions[edit | edit source]

References to other works[edit | edit source]

  • The character of Mr Harley Quin is clearly based upon Harlequin from the 16th century Italian Commedia dell'arte. The earlier versions of the character were that of a clown or fool although in the 18th century the character changed to become a romantic hero. It is in this guise that he more closely approximates Christie's character of Quin, who in most of the stories helps unravel emotional entanglements in addition to solving the crimes and mysteries. Christie also refers to the Harlequin character in the Masque from Italy sequence of poems in her 1925 collection The Road of Dreams (reprinted in 1973 in Poems) and in her first-ever published magazine short story The Affair at the Victory Ball (1923), published in book form in the US collection The Under Dog and Other Stories (1951) and in the UK in Poirot's Early Cases (1974).
  • In The Coming of Mr Quin, Quin tells Satterthwaite "I must recommend the Harlequinade to your attention. It is dying out nowadays – but it repays attention, I assure you." The Harlequinade was the still-later British stage version, in which Harlequin has magical powers, and brings about changes of scenery by a touch of his slapstick.
  • In The Mysterious Mr Quin, several impressions are given to the reader through Satterthwaite's almost subconscious thoughts of the connection between the appearance of Quin and the traditional costume of Harlequin, the latter being a dark mask and clothing composed of multi-coloured diamond-shapes as featured on the cover of the UK first edition of the book (see image above). In The Coming of Mr Quin, Quin is first described in the following passage:
"Framed in the doorway stood a man's figure, tall and slender. To Mr Satterthwaite, watching, he appeared by some curious effect of the stained glass above the door, to be dressed in every colour of the rainbow. Then, as he stepped forward, he showed himself to be a thin dark man dressed in motoring clothes."

Later in the same story, the mask effect is described thus:

"Mr Quin acknowledged the introductions, and dropped into the chair that Evesham had hospitably pulled forward. As he sat, some effect of the firelight threw a bar of shadow across his face which gave almost the impression of a mask."

In The Shadow on the Glass, the literary effect this repeated as follows:

"Mr Quin sat down. The red‐shaded lamp threw a broad band of coloured light over the checked pattern of his overcoat, and left his face in shadow almost as though he wore a mask."

In The Sign in the Sky, the description is:

"[The table] was already occupied by a tall dark man who sat with his face in shadow, and with a play of colour from a stained window turning his sober garb into a kind of riotous motley."

The Soul of the Croupier ends with the sentence, "Mr Quin smiled, and a stained glass panel behind him invested him for just a moment in a motley garment of coloured light..."

In The Bird with the Broken Wing, Mabelle Annesley says,

"I was out in the woods late this afternoon, and I met a man - such a strange sort of man - tall and dark, like a lost soul. The sun was setting, and the light of it through the trees made him look like a kind of Harlequin."
  • In The Shadow on the Glass, Captain Allenson states that Mr and Mrs Scott are "doing the turtle dove stunt", thereby referring to the bird as a symbol of love. The name of house in the story - Greenway's House - is possibly derived from the name of her future home, Greenway House, on the banks on the River Dart in Devon. Although Christie did not purchase the house until 1938, she had been aware of its existence since childhood.
  • The Arlecchino restaurant features in both The Sign in the Sky and The Face of Helen as a place where Quin states he often goes. The word "Arlecchino" is Italian for "Harlequin".
  • In The Face of Helen, Quin states that there are reasons why he is attracted to the opera Pagliacci. This opera (whose name translates in Italian as "Clowns") depicts a group of performers of the Commedia dell'arte in which Harlequin is one of the chief characters. The opera is also referenced in Swan Song, the final story in the 1934 collection The Listerdale Mystery.
  • In The Bird with the Broken Wing, one of the songs that Mabelle Annesley plays and sings is The Swan by Edvard Grieg (En Svane from Op. 25 [No. 2] Six poems by Henrik Ibsen).
  • In Harlequin's Lane, the lyrics of the "old Irish ballad" that Molly Stanwell sings are in fact from Christie's own poem Dark Sheila, first printed in the Poetry Today issue for May/June 1919 and later reprinted in her collections The Road of Dreams (1925) and Poems (1973).
  • In Harlequin's Lane, Satterthwaith says to Quin, "Bring me the two most beautiful things in the city, said God. You know how it goes, eh?" He refers to the Happy Prince of Oscar Wilde in which God gives this order to an angel.

References to actual history, geography and current science[edit | edit source]

In The Dead Harlequin, the character of Aspasia Glen is an early attempt by Christie to portray the acclaimed American monologist Ruth Draper (1884–1956). She re-used and enlarged upon the idea in her 1933 novel Lord Edgware Dies with the character of Carlotta Adams.

The story The Man from the Sea was actually written in Puerto de la Cruz in the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The Villa La Paz still exists, and is one of the heritage listed buildings in the town. Unluckily, the "cypresses walk" has been detached from the garden by a new road but there is still, commanding impressive views of the ocean and the cliff. 

References in other works[edit | edit source]

Christie re-uses the plot device from The Sign in the Sky of the train smoke as an alibi Taken at the Flood (1948). 

Adaptations[edit | edit source]

The Coming of Mr Quin, the first short story in the Anthology, would be adapted into film as The Passing of Mr. Quinn in 1928, directed by Julius Hagen and Leslie S. Hiscott and adapted by Hiscott. The cast included:

  • Stewart Rome ... Dr Alec Portal
  • Trilby Clark ... Mrs Eleanor Appleby
  • Ursula Jeans ... Vera, the Maid
  • Clifford Heatherley ... Prof. Appleby
  • Mary Brough ... Cook
  • Vivian Baron ... Derek Cappel
  • Kate Gurney ... Landlady

The film, in turn, was "novelized" as The Passing of Mr. Quinn by G. Roy McRae (London Book Company, 1929).

Actor Hugh Fraser was the reader of the unabridged recording of The Mysterious Mr Quin released in 2006 by BBC Audiobooks America (ISBN 978-1572705296) and HarperCollins in 2005 (ISBN 978-0007189717) and 2007 (ISBN 978-0007212583). ISIS Audio Books released an unabridged recording in 1993 read by Geoffrey Matthews (ISBN 978-1856956758)

A series of abridged readings of three of the stories ("The Coming of Mr Quin", "The Soul of the Croupier", "At the 'Bells and Motley'") were broadcast September 15-17, 2009 on BBC Radio 4 as part of the Afternoon Readings program and performed by Martin Jarvis. A second series of abridged readings ("The World's End", "The Face of Helen", "The Sign in the Sky") was broadcast 15-17 September 2010 on BBC Radio 4 and again performed by Martin Jarvis. A third set ("The Dead Harlequin", "The Man From the Sea", "Harlequin's Lane") was broadcast 6-8 September 2011 on BBC Radio 4 and again performed by Martin Jarvis.

Publication history[edit | edit source]

  • 1930, William Collins and Sons (London), 14 April 1930, Hardcover, 288 pp
  • 1930, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1930, Hardcover, 290 pp
  • c. 1930, Lawrence E. Spivak, Abridged edition, 126 pp
  • 1943, Dodd Mead and Company, (as part of the Triple Threat along with Poirot Investigates and Partners in Crime), Hardcover
  • 1950, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, (Dell number 570), 256 pp
  • 1953, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 931), 250 pp
  • 1965, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 255 pp
  • 1973, Pan Books, Paperback, 256 pp; ISBN 0-330-23457-9
  • 1977, Ulverscroft large-print Edition, Hardcover, 457 pp; ISBN 0-85456-546-9
  • 1984, Berkley Books, Paperback, 246 pp; Berkley number 06795-5
  • 2010, HarperCollins; Facsimile edition, Hardcover: 288 pages; ISBN 978-0-00-735464-1

Chapters from the book appeared in Agatha Christie's Crime Reader, published by Cleveland Publishing in 1944 along with other selections from Poirot Investigates and Partners in Crime.

First publication of stories[edit | edit source]

The first UK magazine publication of all the stories has not been fully documented. A partial listing is as follows:

  • The Coming of Mr Quin: First published as The Passing of Mr Quin in issue 229 of The Grand Magazine in March 1924.
  • The Shadow on the Glass: First published in issue 236 of the Grand Magazine in October 1924.
  • The Sign in the Sky: First published under the slightly different title of A Sign in the Sky in issue 245 of the Grand Magazine in July 1925.
  • At the Bells and Motley: First published as A Man of Magic in issue 249 of the Grand Magazine in November 1925.
  • The Soul of the Croupier: First published in issue 237 of The Story-Teller magazine in January 1927.
  • The World's End: First published under the slightly abbreviated title of World's End in issue 238 of The Story-Teller Magazine in February 1927
  • The Voice in the Dark: First published in issue 239 of The Story-Teller magazine in March 1927.
  • The Face of Helen: First published in issue 240 of The Story-Teller magazine in April 1927.
  • Harlequin's Lane: First published in issue 241 of The Story-Teller magazine in May 1927.
  • The Man From the Sea: First published in volume 1, number 6 of Britannia and Eve magazine in October 1929. The story was illustrated by Steven Spurrier.

The five stories in The Story-teller magazine above were part of a six-story sequence titled The Magic of Mr Quin. The sixth story in the sequence (and the first to be published) was At the Crossroads in issue 236 in December 1926. 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.

No UK magazine printing of either The Dead Harlequin or The Bird with the Broken Wing has yet been traced. A partial listing of the first US magazine publications is as follows:

  • The Coming of Mr Quin: March 1925 (Volume LXXXIV, Number 2) issue of Muncey magazine under the title Mr Quinn Passes By; the story was not illustrated.
  • At the Bells and Motley: 17 July 1926 (Volume XVI, Number 6) issue of Flynn's Weekly with an uncredited illustration.
  • The Soul of the Croupier: 13 November 1926 (Volume XIX, Number 5) issue of Flynn's Weekly with an uncredited illustration.
  • The World's End: 20 November 1926 (Volume XIX, Number 6) issue of Flynn's Weekly with an uncredited illustration.
  • The Voice in the Dark: 4 December 1926 (Volume XX, Number 1) issue of Flynn's Weekly with an uncredited illustration.
  • The Face of Helen: 6 August 1927 issue of Detective Story Magazine.
  • The Dead Harlequin: 22 June 1929 (Volume 42, Number 3) issue of Detective Fiction Weekly with an uncredited illustration.

Book dedication[edit | edit source]

Christie's dedication in the book reads: "To Harlequin the invisible". This dedication is unusual for two reasons; first, few of her short story collections carried a dedication and, second, it is the only time that Christie dedicates a book to one of her fictional creations.

Dustjacket blurb[edit | edit source]

The blurb of the first edition (which is carried on both the back of the dustjacket and opposite the title page) reads: "Mr Satterthwaite is a dried-up elderly little man who has never known romance or adventure himself. He is a looker-on at life. But he feels an increasing desire to play a part in the drama of other people – especially is he drawn to mysteries of unsolved crime. And here he has a helper – the mysterious Mr Quin – the man who appears from nowhere - who ‘comes and goes’ like the invisible Harlequin of old. Who is Mr Quin? No one knows, but he is one who ‘speaks for the dead who cannot speak for themselves,’ and he is also the friend of lovers. Prompted by his mystic influence, Mr Satterthwaite plays a real part in life at last, and unravels mysteries that seem incapable of solution. In Mr Quin, Agatha Christie has created a character as fascinating as Hercule Poirot himself."

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