The Mysterious Mr. Quin: Agatha Christie in Phoning it in Shocker

27 12 2010

Let’s just get one thing straight: I bloody love Agatha Christie. But that will not stop me from saying loud and proud (well, whispering quietly and shamefacedly) that she is just not that great of a writer. Techincally speaking and that. Usually her clunky dialogue and obvious plot devices (not to mention her disappointingly male gaze-y descriptions of female characters) don’t really matter because she gets the rest of it so right. But there are other times when you just want to say to her, “Look, you’ve written a bazillion books already! Don’t rush this one. You don’t need the money. Just put your feet up and have a G&T and we can leave this in a drawer somewhere, yeah? I hear there’s a rather entertaining play on the wireless later…”

Oh Ags. If only you’d had a friend like me.

Sadly you didn’t, and the net result was Mr Satterthwaite, a fussy, snobbish old man who enjoys poking his nose into other people’s business and solving implausible coincidences — sorry, mysteries — with his semi-supernatural magic-rainbow-producing gay crush. In all probability he’s hallucinating for at least 30% of the book. Why do rainbows and shit mysteries suddenly appear, every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be, part of these dreadful stories.

Well, I say he solves them, but actually the whole plot develops around whatever would be useful being true in order to chime in with whatever stupid dénouement old Ags has got planned so while he come across as borderline psychic, it’s simply that she left the scaffolding on when she built this one.

I’d like to point out as an aside that Agatha said that Sats and old Quinny mcQuinface were her favourite characters. BATSHIT ALERT. Never trust an author to say what stuff what they done wrote is any cop. It’s always hobbledeehock. I mean, Quin doesn’t even have any character. I despise the overuse (and frequent misuse) of the word literally, but seriously dudes, literally all he does is rock up and ask Sat a bunch of questions and then bugger off again into the mysterious ether from whence he came. For all we know he might be a formidable chess player, a talented bassoonist, a generous and skilled lover and a cooker of a mean spaghetti carbonara. A man who enjoys slightly misty October days and often wonders if he would be happier if he had trained as a doctor, and whether Wendy really meant that thing she said to him in Dover all those years ago. Who knows. That would sure as hell be a lot more interesting than what we do find out about him, which is sweet diddly squat. He is an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a vest. Or, you know, a lazy plot device / supernatural exposition machine/ the fevered projection of a closeted nutbag. I’m taking all bets.

Lest you should think I’m singling out Quin for criticism vis a vis having no personality, the rest of them are just as bad. Apart from Satterthwaite, who after all is the NARRATOR, everyone is the whole damn book might as well be a cardboard cut out. The characterisation is so non existent and the things that happen to them so implausible and obviously contrived — and most of it the unverifiable conjecture of a nosy old twat anyway — that it is literally impossible to give a shit about them at all. If you can even remember which of them is which, which I doubt. I’m really sorry Agatha, but you have to remember you are no Graham Greene. You can’t just write half a line about someone and think that counts as indicating their proclivities or past. The whole of this god damn collection just seems like she hastily scrawled it on the back on an envelope whilst drunk and then couldn’t be arsed with changing any of it.

Do any murderers ever think dressing up as a ghost will be a good way to avoid detection? Does anyone need a daft old git and his imaginary friend to work out what happened when ballistics experts exist? Does the love of a good woman cure terminal diseases? What the hell is even happening in half the time?

You may remember the old “invisible servants” trope from such rants as Wuthering Heights, and, I suspect, most of Western literature from about 1693–1957. But this one really stands out among Christie’s other works for just treating everyone beneath an Earl as either non-existent (how DO they get the napkins so starched around here? must be magic. everything else in this book conveniently is) or of no interest.
I mean, come on! At least Poirot actually talks to working class people. Often as equals. It’s one of his little trademark quirks that unlike the stupid old British labouring under the great burden of their class assumption, quick-witted plucky Belgian Poirot can actually talk to poor people! As if they are humans! And thus he finds the answers that stuck up Scotland Yard and/or any poshos lying around, e.g. Hastings, are too set in their ways to even consider. Bully for him vive le socialisme etc.

What Satterthwaite and he have in common is a certain Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons -esque feeling of “oh I’ve wasted my life”. But unlike Poirot’s wistful and underplayed gestures towards loneliness, old Sat is definitely going to let you know that things didn’t pan out quite the way he had planned. He never quite comes out and says “if only it had worked out with Eric”, or, you know, just comes out, but it’s there in every other word he does say. It’s unfortunate for us all, however, that loneliness has not made him bitter, because instead he spends all his time matchmaking anyone under the age of 50 who happens to cross his path. The underlying theme of all of these so-called mysteries is the bringing together of some couple or other, because obviously you can force people to fall in love just like that. But then romantic realism is not something Ags is really known for; the ends of cases are frequently sealed by some implausible hetronormative happy ending.

There you have it: it is better to have loved and lost than to be surrounded by coincidences that make no sense and hallucinating a tall dark carny who fucks up the laws of physics.