Mr Satterthwaite has spent a lifetime observing the drama of humanity, but when he meets the catalysing Mr Harley Quin, he is able to put his experience to good use in resolving mysterious, and even murderous, situations.
The cases presented are:
1. The Coming of Mr Quin
2. The Shadow on the Glass
3. At the “Bells and Motley”
4. The Sign in the Sky
5. The Soul of the Croupier
6. The Man from the Sea
7. The Voice in the Dark
8. The Face of Helen
9. The Dead Harlequin
10. The Bird with the Broken Wing
11. The World’s End
12. Harlequin’s Lane
The original publication order in UK magazines is slightly different and is 1, 2, 4, 3, 5, 11, 7, 8, 12, 9, 6 with no known magazine publication of 10. For all that I am puzzled about what actually happens in 12, it is fitting that it ends this collection.
The better stories are those where old cases are reviewed, and by talking them over, new light is shed upon the facts. This is best illustrated in the first story where several people share their memories of an event, which when combined shed light on what has happened. A key theme running through this type of story is the injustice suffered when a crime is unsolved, but suspicion remains attached to those who cannot prove their innocence. Here, rather than being an avenger e.g. Miss Marple in “Nemesis” who searches out the guilty for punishment, Mr Quin through Mr Satterthwaite is one who restores the reputation of the innocent.
Whilst Mr Satterthwaite comes to believe that there is something supernatural about Mr Quin – I had wanted to take a detailed look at his activities to determine whether everything that he does could be rooted in the natural but time has got the better of me– the solutions to the problems they face are all real.
Overall, I was slightly disappointed in re-reading this collection as some of the stories (5 and 6 in particular) aren’t that strong. It didn’t help reading it just after Partners in Crime as that was better than I remembered.
Recurring character development
In the first story he is sixty-two and described as “a little bent, dried-up man with a peering face oddly elflike”. By the sixth story he is sixty-nine.
Seems to “matter so little, to have so negative a personality, is merely a glorified listener”.
Employs a chauffeur called Masters, who drives his Rolls Royce, and an unnamed cordon bleu chef.
Knows everybody, including the Commissioner of Police.
Has a valuable art collection.
Reserves a box at the Covent Garden Opera House on Tuesdays and Fridays during the season.
Signs of the Times
Derek Capel was in the running for the Benedick stakes (1). Referring to Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, this implies that he was likely to get married soon.
Mr Quin recommends that Mr Satterthwaite should study The Harlequinade (1). This is an English variant of the Italian Commedia dell’arte and used to be part of a pantomime. The characters are Harlequin, Columbine, Pantaloon, Pierrot and the Clown.
Lady Cynthia uses the song lyric “great big bears and tigers” to refer to Richard Scott, the Big Game man (2). This may be deliberately ironic as the line appears in the first verse, which is about a trip to the zoo, of a song called “Come Along With Me” taken from the 1903 musical “The Orchid”.
Mr Satterthwaite quotes the line about the evil that men do living after them (2). This is taken from Mark Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” which I remember well from Year 9 SATS.
The third story takes place in 1925.
1924 is described as the age of Crossword Puzzles and Cat Burglars (3).
The fourth story takes place in 1929.
Mr Quin says there are reasons why he is attracted to the opera “Pagliacci” (8). It was written in 1892 by Ruggero Leoncavallo and features clowns and a murder, which is presumably what he is referring to.
The new tenor is said to be a second Caruso (8). Enrico Caruso (1873 – 1921) was the premier tenor of his generation, and the first major classical vocalist to make numerous recordings of his work.
Four members of the house party do table turning (10). This practice was exported from the USA to Europe in 1852 and was a forerunner of the Ouija board which dates from the 1880s.
Mr Right is considered to be an old fashioned expression (10). I would have assumed it to be a relatively recent term but it can be found as far back as 1796.
The song sung by Mabelle Annesley is “A Swan” with Edvard Grieg’s music added to a poem by Henrik Ibsen (10).
Mr Vyse refers to the play “Riders from the Sea” (11). This was written by John Millington Synge (1871 – 1909) and was first performed in 1904.
Mr Tomlinson refers to the play “Jim the Penman” (11). This was written by Charles Lawrence Young and was filmed in 1915 and 1921.
Mr Satterthwaite’s quote “Bring me the two most beautiful things in the city, said God” is from the end of Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Happy Prince” (12).
Vintage Reading Challenge
Messrs Satterthwaite and Quin are “Who – an amateur detective”.