The Mysterious Mr. Quin

A collection of short stories featuring the connoisseur of art and drama Mr. Satterthwaite and his friend, the mysterious Mr. Quin.

Rating: *****

Life has passed Mr. Satterthwaite by, something he regrets every day. But being just an observer has given him a certain skill – the skill to feel when a human drama is at hand. His experience has enabled him to sense the tension in the air, the unique commingling of events that forebodes some crisis. In all these short stories, Mr. Satterthwaite enters at the important moment. But although he can see it, it is the appearance of Mr. Quin that focuses his judgement. Adroitely yet subtly, Mr. Quin just comes and goes; he has the magical touch of drawing out what we all know – the facts – and guides those present, in each of these stories, towards solving the mystery.

A unique collection of detective stories. We never know who Mr. Quin is. An enigma, perhaps the hand of fate, or the spokesman of the dead, the role he plays is crucial. While reading, I eagerly waited for his appearance, for his guiding hand, and his effect on Mr. Satterthwaite. Besides being the force behind his friend, he was also the force driving us to read on. The stories are mysterious, intoxicating and eerily interesting. Mr. Quin permeates throughout the novel.

Description of Mr. Satterthwaite in The Coming of Mr Quin, the opening short story,

Mr Satterthwaite was sixty-two – a little bent, dried-up man with a peering face oddly elflike, and an intense and inordinate interest in other people’s lives. All his life, so to speak, he had sat in the front row of the stalls watching various dramas of human nature unfold before him. His role had always been that of the onlooker. Only now, with old age holding him in its clutch, he found himself increasingly critical of the drama submitted to him. He demanded something a little out of the common.

There was no doubt he had a flair for these things. He knew instinctively when the elements of drama were at hand. Like a war horse, he sniffed the scent.

and Mr Quin,

This was Mr Quin’s doing. It was he who was staging the play – was giving the actors their cues. He was at the heart of the mystery, pulling the strings, making the puppets work. He knew everything…

Besides the mysterious main character, I love this book for the various insights Agatha shows into characters through Mr. Satterthwaite. He has the gift of reading character and I find the medley of human being in her novels rather interesting.

I finished this book so fast because I couldn’t put it down and on the other hand, I wanted to savour each and every case, every word so I often went back to re-read a page. Torn between two opposites, I sat up until after midnight finishing the book!

Father Brown

In this collection of short stories, Father Brown, a Catholic Priest, is introduced as a small, inconspicuous, somewhat clumsy individual. It suffices to say looks can be deceiving. Father Brown, because he is a priest, knows a thing or two about human nature. (More at any rate, than a spinster living in a small village!) He has come into contact with all types of criminals and has learned some of their tricks – not, of course, to repeat them, but rather to identify certain behaviour. He hasn’t made a profession of detecting, but his profession has made him a sort of detective.

Things I liked

The style of detection was different from what I’m used to with Agatha Christie. Her detectives Disapprove of murder with a capital D – as of course they should. But what I liked about Father Brown was how it dealt with the human side of each case. It wasn’t labeled from the beginning that a man is a murderer, he is evil, he was born wrong and must be condemned. G. K. Chesterton showed how a man is a man first, who then commits a murder due to his baser instincts. There were also the cases where the murderer had no pity from the reader, but nevertheless, we always saw his human side. Because it’s ludicrous to suppose that lines can be drawn. Everyone has the capacity to commit a crime. Father Brown understood that and being a priest judged accordingly.

I also enjoyed Father Brown’s beliefs of the supernatural; How he didn’t believe in it despite being a priest. It was supposed by many characters that he would, but his clear-sightedness always saw past all that to the reality.

Things I didn’t like

Most of the time in the stories I was disappointed that G. K. Chesterton ended up killing off the murderer with suicide. It was as if he didn’t want to deal with the character after he had committed a crime. As I said before, the book dealt nicely with the development of the crime, but it was tidied up so as to not deal with the after effects. It wasn’t done in every story, but often enough to annoy me.

Father Brown was a very astute detective, but many times, even when he was introduced before the crime or murder had been committed, he failed to solve it in time. I might be asking for the impossible here (although that is precisely what Hercule Poirot does in the short story Wasps’ Nest), but if he was able to read humans so well, he might have made an effort to dispel the tension which naturally led to the murders.

Poirot’s Early Cases

A collection of short stories dealing with cases early on in Poirot’s career. The short stories are ones that had been published in other books before and were later published together under the title Poirot’s Early Cases. Some of the cases are conducted with Arthur Hastings and some with his secretary Miss Lemon.

The most notable of the short stories is Double Clue. It is the first appearance of Countess Vera Rossakoff (the closest thing to a romance with Poirot). She appears in twice more in The Big Four, and The Labours of Hercules.

Other favorites are Wasp’s Nest in which Hercule Poirot comes to prevent a murder and leaves changing the murderer to be, The Lemesurier Inheritance where Poirot investigates the reality of family curse, The Chocolate Box, Poirot’s only failure and The Third Floor Flat in which a crime happens in Poirot’s own building.

Agatha’s short stories are as good as her novels and are fun to read. These stories include characters Captain Hastings, Miss Lemon, Inspector Japp (or Chief Inspector Japp as he later beomes), and Countess Vera Rossakoff.