Tag Archives: Mystery novels

Review: The Trees of Pride (Spoilers)

Rating: ★★★★

Author: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”

Overview: The Trees of Pride is one of Chesterton’s mystery novels, of which he has many. Most are in the Father Brown series; this, however, is a singlet.

The Trees of Pride takes place in Cornwall, in a quaint coastal village in the far southwest reaches of England. Cornwall, though a popular tourist destination, is also associated with occult practices, as well as its history of piracy. This makes it an obvious choice for a murder mystery.

Meat:

For starters, I have to admit, this was the first mystery novel I have ever read, and Chesterton did not disappoint. All of his books are stimulating and thoughtful. Chesterton skillfully speaks through the narrative as well as through the characters as voiceboxes.

Chesterton creates a fictional saint, St. Securis. Trees are moved by his prayers; a myth of Orpheus leading trees by his music is also referenced. These walking trees are also in Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse and are a favorite motif of the Inklings (who, readers should remember, were readers of Chesterton and not his personal acquaintances).

Chesterton sets up these trees as a foil: everyone believes the trees kill. Then the doctor sets up an elaborated faked death in order to ensure the trees will be destroyed.

In the end, the popular myth was in fact correct; although, all the educated people in the story had assumed that this was the one explanation to be scorned. Thus, the doctor says in the end:

I had something against me heavier and more hopeless than the hostility of the learned; I had the support of the ignorant. (loc. 927)

And again:

Your rational principle was that a thing must be false because thousands of men had found it true; that because many human eyes had seen something, it could not be there. (loc. 954)

Bones:

This book is a very quick read, and it doesn’t have as wide an appeal as some of his other novels. Some modern readers will definitely feel off-put by the blatant use of certain characters as a voicebox, a practice criticized in postmodern literature. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable read and will remain one of the better of Chesterton’s fiction works.

Read For Free: LibriVox (audiobook), Project Gutenberg (epub, rtf), Kindle Store (mobi).

You can find links to many Chesterton’s books for free here.

Review: The Man Who Was Thursday (No Spoilers)

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: G. K. Chesterton was a devoutly Catholic journalist, poet and novelist of the early 20th century. His most apt nickname is “The Prince of Paradox.”

Genre: Surrealism, crime, suspense.

Overview:

The Man Who Was Thursday is probably Chesterton’s most intriguing work of fiction. It reads exactly like a modern action movie, skipping from place to place, and you are not quite sure, until the end, who is on which side of the conflict.

The story centers around the work of the “philosophical police,” especially one man named Syme. Syme, along with others, has been given the assignment of rooting out anarchism in England, and he begins by getting acquainted with Gregory, a friend of a friend, who appears to dabble in anti-establishment talk around parlors and dinner tables. Syme believes that Gregory may be involved in some deeper plot with an underground anarchist organization; Syme has no idea, though, how deep the rabbit hole will go.

As the plot thickens, it carries with it all the intrigue of The Matrix or an M. Night Shyamalan film, as readers are trying to figure out what is real and what is fantasy. Chesterton despises tidily framed opinions and political correctness, and this book makes some brow-furrowing philosophical statements both through the characters’ voices and through the paradoxes engendered throughout the plot.

Meat:

My favorite part of this book was not any of the aphorisms peppered throughout—which are inevitable in any Chesterton book. My favorite part was the irony that grows larger and larger throughout the book, until it becomes so ludicrous that you see why the book’s subtitle is A Nightmare. The story couldn’t be real just as he describes the story; it is real all around us and is renewed every day.

Chesterton proves to cross genres just as adeptly as Lewis or MacDonald. Nothing is lost in reading his non-fiction, poetry, or novels.

Bones:

My biggest bone with this book is the presentation—as usually printed, it looks like a piece of crime fiction, and it could easily be confused as one of the “Father Brown” stories. This story is very different from those, and, as I mentioned, the subtitle—which is left out on many editions—should suggest as much.

Although on the whole the book is full of suspense, parts of the plot do seem predictable, but the narrative is told in such a clever way that it did not bother me in the least, or detract from the constant wonder of reading the novel.

Quotes:

“Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front . . . “

I can forgive God His anger, though it destroyed nations; but I cannot forgive Him His peace.”

Read: LibriVox (audiobook), Project Gutenberg (epub & rtf), The Internet Archive (pdf)



An old review reads:

A WILD, MAD, HILARIOUS AND PROFOUNDLY MOVING TALE

It is very difficult to classify THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY. It is possible to say that it is a gripping adventure story of murderous criminals and brilliant policemen; but it was to be expected that the author of the Father Brown stories should tell a detective story like no-one else. On this level, therefore, THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY succeeds superbly; if nothing else, it is a magnificent tour-de-force of suspense-writing.

However, the reader will soon discover that it is much more than that. Carried along on the boisterous rush of the narrative by Chesterton’s wonderful high-spirited style, he will soon see that he is being carried into much deeper waters than he had planned on; and the totally unforeseeable denouement will prove for the modern reader, as it has for thousands of others since 1908 when the book was first published, an inevitable and moving experience, as the investigators finally discover who Sunday is.