The Queer Feet by G.K. Chesterton, 1911
The magic trick:
A detective who makes the accusation before the reader even knows what the crime is
My wife and I love watching the Father Brown on Netflix. How closely does the show follow the source material? Well, not too closely. And that’s to its credit. Seriously, these stories are really dated and of dubious quality. And I love English mysteries. Just not a huge fan of the old Father Brown catalog.
This story starts slowly. Gilbert Keith relishes establishing the scene and narrative voice, dropping punchlines about the exclusivity of the dinner club. And then – without spoiling too much – even when the mystery finally arrives, it’s not all that enticing. The narrator seems almost annoyed by having this nasty little thing called plot distract from his humorous commentary.
It is interesting, though, to see a mystery constructed in this way. Father Brown confronts the guilty party and makes the accusation halfway through – before we even know what the crime is.
And that’s quite a trick on Chesterton’s part.
The club of The Twelve True Fishermen would not have consented to dine anywhere but in such a place, for it insisted on a luxurious privacy; and would have been quite upset by the mere thought that any other club was even dining in the same building. On the occasion of their annual dinner the Fishermen were in the habit of exposing all their treasures, as if they were in a private house, especially the celebrated set of fish knives and forks which were, as it were, the insignia of the society, each being exquisitely wrought in silver in the form of a fish, and each loaded at the hilt with one large pearl. These were always laid out for the fish course, and the fish course was always the most magnificent in that magnificent repast. The society had a vast number of ceremonies and observances, but it had no history and no object; that was where it was so very aristocratic. You did not have to be anything in order to be one of the Twelve Fishers; unless you were already a certain sort of person, you never even heard of them. It had been in existence twelve years. Its president was Mr. Audley. Its vice-president was the Duke of Chester.
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