The Man Who Knew Too Much
Genre: Short Stories
Date Published: December 8, 2013 (reprint)
Number of Pages: 106
Print Price: $4.49
eBook Price: $0.00
G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Knew Too Much is a collection of short mystery stories all involving the eponymous character, Horne Fisher. Throughout the tales we observe Fisher stumbling upon a crime scene and using his wit and powers of observation to identify a suspect and spell out a motive. The journalist, Harold March, accompanies Fisher in many of these stories as his traveling companion and serves as the ends of the narrative exposition when Fisher identifies the criminal. However, as readers will note, the excessively connected and informed Fisher is often powerless to expose the crimes in the open, lest his cunning defame political leaders or incite rebellion. This lack of justice is not lost on Fisher, who seems rather morose and uninterested around these scenes: the awareness of his own being hamstrung having become rather dull in his eyes.
The various tales are entertaining and capture the imagination of the reader. The stories each follow a typical cycle: the setting is placed, the crime drama unfolds, and Fisher brilliantly unravels the mystery. Unfortunately, due to our culture's saturation of crime dramas, many of Chesterton's novel detective puzzlers (the collection being published in 1922) seem old hat and quite cliché, having been the trope of many a prime time serial. This fact however, does not take away from Chesterton's brilliance; rather it bares testimony to his often felt but rarely acknowledged influence in our modern age. Moreover, his writing is erudite and sharp, lush with both detail and substance, keeping a brisk pace of storytelling that will hold even the shortest attention spans.
The major themes of the work challenge the reader. Often Fisher is faced with a situation that demands justice, yet he must delay or prevent the just punishment of a criminal in order to preserve the status quo or protect another individual. This is precisely what the book’s title is referring to as The Man Who Knew Too Much; Fisher literally knows so much as to render his talented observance ineffectual. This raises questions of incredible consequence in our modern culture of relativism: what is worth knowing, do our connections empower or control us, do the ends justify the means, and is it worth the trouble to speak up and make a stand? Chesterton subtly handles these themes not in a grand, epic story sweeping over the centuries with multiple protagonists; instead, he brilliantly explores these themes in just under 200 pages mainly through the exploits of Horne Fisher. This being said, the themes do not pop out to be readily identified and highlighted through a superficial read of the book. Rather, it is after finishing the novel and reflecting back on the bravery Fisher shows at the climax, that his past caution and ineffectiveness become apparent. These themes are satisfactorily carried to their logical conclusion as Chesterton shows us, through Fisher, that the things really worth knowing will inspire us to make the greatest sacrifices for truth, and indeed our allegiance to the truth compels us to do so. To this end, the book is worth reading, not only for its entertaining crime dramas, but for the way it subtly leads the reader to ponder and probe the aforementioned themes.
As for the Catholicity of The Man Who Knew Too Much, readers expecting a devotional work or a tale dripping with the cultural trappings of Catholicism will be left wanting. Religion in general plays only an incidental role in a few of the tales and the religious affiliation of the protagonist is of no consequence. Generally speaking, the explicit exploration of religious practice or the action of providence and grace, is outside of the scope of this work. Chesterton seems rather to appeal to the transcendental qualities: goodness, truth, and beauty. He first shows a world void of these qualities. The England of the story is filled with murder, lies, and the ugliness of mankind at its worst. By the end however, Chesterton has reinstituted goodness, truth, and beauty through the courageous acts of Horne Fisher. While not obviously Catholic, the work is unquestionably Catholic. There are no rosaries or sacraments, but the moral content of a man willing to do what is necessary to redeem goodness, truth, and beauty to his fellow man, boldly exclaims the practical Catholic content of this work.
In summary, Chesterton’s The Man Who Knew Too Much is a delightful and well written collection of mystery stories that, when pondered upon as a whole, reflect deep truths. Matters of faith and morality are subtly handled through the actions and words of the protagonist without direct reference to God or religion. This however, does not detract from the work; rather, its chief value as a text is its presentation of beauty, truth, and goodness that may resonate with those who are not ready or willng to read a work with explicit religious themes. I firmly recommend this book to all readers.Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Original Language: English
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