Book #45 for 2016
I finished reading this during Fort Collins Comic Con, so when the food truck vendor asked me to name the first fictional character to pop into my head (to call when my order was ready), I responded, “Harley Quin.” She was pleased with my choice. It took me a minute to realize that we were thinking of very different characters.
Christie’s Quin is one of my favorite characters, so much so that I’ve even written stories with my own harlequinesque character, Hallelujah Kwin. (Only one of them, “The Scrap in the Quarry,” has seen print so far.) Quin never got his own novel, but that’s one of the things that I love about him: Christie refused to force him into being and wrote Quin stories only when she felt moved to do so. Quin gets to remain delightfully mysterious and vaguely supernatural.
I read this as part of the Agatha Christie Perpetual Reading Challenge, so I made some attempt to read them in publication order. However, a few were clearly published out of the stories’ logical order, and then several of the stories first appeared in this collection. I don’t agree completely with the order Elena Santangelo suggested in Dame Agatha’s Shorts, but what I’ve worked out below is sort of a combination of her order and publication order.
“The Coming of Mr Quin” is apparently the first Quin story, and it is one of the best for showing how Quin works as Mr Satterthwaite’s investigative catalyst. I think it also demonstrates the “daughter of time” effect far better than the Josephine Tey novel of that name.
Then skip ahead to “At the Bells and Motley,” which seems very clearly to me to be the second Quin story. It’s another tale of clarity from a later perspective.
Then you can come back to this collection for “The Sign in the Sky.” It’s a clever little puzzle, but it’s a shame Satterthwaite is a bit dense in this one.
Now you can go back to “The Shadow on the Glass,” a spooky tale that really stays with me. And then onto “The Soul of the Croupier,” a Monte Carlo romance; “The World’s End,” which provides an interesting setting and assortment of lovers and suspects; and “The Voice in the Dark,” probably the weakest entry with an ending I didn’t quite buy.
I read “Harlequin’s Lane” next, but after reading the four “new” stories, I have to agree with Elena that you should save it for last. So, “The Face of Helen” is a bit far-fetched but a great, timeless story. “The Dead Harlequin” is a nifty locked-room puzzle that demonstrates Christie’s fascination with the art world. “The Bird with the Broken Wing” felt a little disjointed (if you will pardon the phrasing) to me, but it’s certainly an interesting use of a Ouija board as a plot device. “The Man from the Sea” is almost pure romance, sweet but very dark. Then “Harlequin’s Lane” finishes off the volume with a mystical, tragic flourish.
There is a lot of tragedy in these pages, and if you are sensitive to scenarios of suicide, you might want to give this a pass, or at least approach it with caution. I get the impression Christie was drawn to this character when she was feeling particularly melancholic. The stories are also very 1920s in style and written while she was still quite young, so if you go into this expecting a standard detective story, you are apt to be disappointed. But if you are feeling broody or gothic, this might be just the thing.