12 January 2008

Book Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much by G. K. Chesterton

The Man Who Knew Too Much A stroll through the countryside turns nasty for Harold March when a car crashes mere metres from where he stands. Fortunately Harold is sharing the riverbank with a new acquaintance. Horne Fisher knows something about everything; knows too much, in fact, for with his mind he can’t help but see the ugly reality of murder concealed behind the ‘accident’. So begins a series of eight stories in which Fisher’s remarkable breadth of knowledge proves too much for various criminals to outwit. The book also contains four other tales. In The Trees of Pride a mysterious disappearance is somehow connected to a stand of supposedly murderous trees. The Garden of Smoke tells of a death among the roses. In The Five of Swords a duel turns out to be more than it seems. And The Tower of Treason features a most unusual murder weapon.

For the most part, these stories are not structured like the Father Brown mysteries, where the clues are all there and visible, just waiting for the reader to put them together ahead of the detective. (Not that it would have helped me much if they were!) Nevertheless they are interesting reading, even if the content tends to the political (made worse by Harold March’s career as a journalist) and if the bad guys largely fail to get their just deserts due to the need to give way to the greater political good. Since mystery stories are supposed to be about getting the villains, that got frustrating.

I preferred the additional stories at the end of the book, particularly The Trees of Pride. Creepy, supposedly carnivorous and/or poisonous trees ... wonderful!

Rating: B-

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776