Thursday, November 12, 2015

The (very) Mysterious Mr Quin (indeed):

Do you remember watching after-school cartoons and seeing the elements of earth, wind, fire, water, and (the always-forgotten) heart pool their powers and, with a mighty collision of forces, produce the marvel that is Captain Planet? That’s how I feel whenever old media and new technologies combine in a smart and fun way: something cool materialises.

This month, I’ve been playing with the Mr Quin app, an immersive mystery adventure from Agatha Christie Limited. Mr Quin is one of Agatha Christie’s most enigmatic characters, an elusive figure who is, in the queen of crime’s own words, ‘not quite human, yet concerned with the affairs of human beings and particularly of lovers. He is also the advocate for the dead.’ In the app he gets a makeover, reinvented for the 21st century and finding his voice through social media. (Watch the trailer at, or jump straight to the app store.)

The app interface is set up to allow the potential release of future stories. The first instalment, Love & Death, is based on Christie’s short story, ‘The Coming of Mr Quin,’ and has all the classic elements of a locked-room style mystery: a manor house, a bunch of bright young things gathered to celebrate an event, a 24-hour window in time, and the lingering shadow of grief over the suicide of a loved one.

The party is documented by Mr. Satterthwaite, a social media entrepreneur and society cool kid who has been invited to live-tweet the event (#TruthParty) and help cast aside the darkness of friend (and former owner of Royston Manor) Derek Capel’s death. Grieving men, masked women, a magician, a skeevy DJ, live camera feeds, alcohol, money, and lingering grief: what could possibly go wrong?

The story unfolds rather like a twitter timeline, but one in which we are privy to everything that gets said, from public tweets to direct messages between friends. If that’s not enough guilt-free voyeurism, there are also multimedia easter eggs that appear along the way -- links to click, blog posts to read, videos to watch -- all with the chance for readers to engage and add comments as the mood takes them. And there’s a sense of tension underneath it all, fuelling the premonition that sometime, at some point in the night, something is gonna go down.

To read, I headed to the bottom of the feed and worked my way up. As the story progresses, new tweets and messages appear as notifications at the top of the screen – just like in real time on twitter. But it’s all the gleeful internet drama without fear of missing out; you can press pause to put the fun on hold and go refill the teapot. I really appreciated the fact that I could pick up and put the story down just as in a traditional reading experience. But I admit that the ‘putting down’ part gets harder as the tension of the story ramps up. 

I love new media, but I really love physical books -- which makes me a tough customer when it comes to app-based storytelling. With this one, though, I was addicted. Mr Quin takes the best elements of reading, film, and social media interfaces and pulls them together into something that's very engaging and a lot of fun -- with just the right amount of goosebumps. I hope there will be more to come, because I’m super keen to see what creepy mysteriousness Mr Quin will get up to next.