G.K. Chesterton is an author who simply must be read by anyone fascinated by quality detective literature. Or literature in general for that matter. His insights into human nature, particular regarding morality, psychology and the soul or heart are profound. At the same time the mixture of wit, sarcasm, humour and paradox he weaves together is fascinatingly powerful.
To put it simply, Chesterton’s writing is unique. Not unique as Mervyn Peake is unique in his word choice. Or unique in the way that Oscar Wilde is unique with his wit or Edgar Allan Poe is with his gothic horror. No, Chesterton is unique in his own particular way. He is unique in the way he blends detective fiction with the metaphysical and with a sense of the supernatural, allowing for an inquiry into deep themes. He is unique in his resolution and the process with which he carries off his plots. When you think you have Chesterton figured out as a reader you rarely do.
The Man Who Knew Too Much is not Chesterton’s finest work. However it is a fine work regardless and certainly classic in every sense. It features a collection of short stories centering around Horne Fisher – the man who knew too much and too much about all the wrong things. Through eight different stories Fisher uses his knowledge to divulge the real criminals of different crimes from murder to theft. However it is not the resolutions themselves that (though clever twists they prove to be) are the main crux of the stories. The real issue is in the dilemma Chesterton throws up – that though by law the criminals in the end may be punished, morally they may have escaped (though their souls be damned). There is the sense that Chesterton contrasts legal justice with moral or spiritual justice and concludes that ultimately though spiritual justice has far greater effect.
This is certainly worth reading and if as a reader you have not spared Chesterton the time he is a priority in the near future. Perhaps any one of the collections to be found in The Complete Father Brown may suffice. For looking at the spiritual, psychological and ethical issues and ideas surrounding crimes there are few better than the prince of paradox – Chesterton. In examining crimes and criminality he examines humanity itself.