The Club of Queer Trades, by G.K. Chesterton

June 30, 2012 at 08:46 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Mediocre Books, Mystery) (, , , )

5/10

Every so often there comes a book whose premise is particularly fantastic, but for whatever reason scarcely lives up to its potential. Unfortunately, The Club of Queer Trades is as plain an example of such a book as ever there was. G.K. Chesterton has the mastery over the mundane and the metaphysical, the trivial and the grave, and over every kind of mystery. His voice is carefully developed and as solid as a rock, and if nothing else, this book does make for delightfully fun reading. After all, even if it fails on some fronts, it is hardly possible to conceive that Chesterton might write untidily.

The loosely-binding centre of this book is the idea that several more rogueish of the inhabitants of Edwardian London have taken it upon themselves to develop unusual means of earning their living, each peculiar to himself. The Sherlockian protagonist goes about calmly unravelling the maze of paradoxes and contradictions that these queer trades by their nature produce, much to the bamboozlement of his friend the narrator. A winsome trope, but one that Chesterton inverts at the end of his book, in a twist that has the unfortunate side-effect of doing significant damage to the preceding story.

“It’s true he didn’t want to talk about his house business in front of us; no man would. It’s true that he carries a sword-stick; any man might. It’s true he drew it in the shock of a street fight; any man would. But there’s nothing really dubious in all this.”

-The Club of Queer Trades

Quite besides that, although the brief mysteries are charmingly told and well laid-out, they are not nearly as clever as they perhaps have promised in the introduction. The eponymous trades are not quite as exotic or exciting as all that, and occasionally readers might well find themselves wishing that the red-herrings Chesterton lays out with all the dilligence of the veteran mystery writer, had in fact been the true slant of the puzzle.

This is a sweet and expertly-written collection, but from G.K. Chesterton more ought to be expected, and this book is well in the shadows of his others.

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