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The Man Who Knew Too Much (original 1922; edition 2011)

by G. K. Chesterton

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5311218,991 (3.43)22
Member:tgamble54
Title:The Man Who Knew Too Much
Authors:G. K. Chesterton
Info:Simon & Brown (2011), Paperback, 184 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:fiction

Work details

The Man Who Knew Too Much by G. K. Chesterton (Author) (1922)

Recently added byprivate library, Synapse, cupocofe, Chestcutter, drmom62, Glire, daentwistle
Legacy LibrariesThomas Mann, C. S. Lewis
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  1. 11
    The Old Man In The Corner by Baroness Emmuska Orczy (ari.joki)
    ari.joki: Non-typical detective work from the sidelines, not for the benefit of the police or a client. For Chesterton, please be warned that the author doesn't hide his abhorrence of atheism, which he calls skepticism.
  2. 00
    The Club of Queer Trades by G. K. Chesterton (duke)
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  Bruno_Estigarribia | Mar 31, 2014 |
Find this ebook here at Gutenberg, and more about the book itself on its wikipedia page.

For some reason I had the idea that this was one long story rather than a series of short stories - and looking back I'm not completely sure where I got that idea. Perhaps from the film(s)? I only have vague memories of the film (which means I probably haven't seen all of it and perhaps only read about it), but I think my half-knowledge of it was somehow the route I took to thinking the book was a single mystery.

Instead it's a series of mysteries with an enigmatic detective-ish character, Horne Fisher. That he's detective-ish means he's not exactly your standard type - but then again, there is a standard for the detective to be an eccentric - so perhaps I'll be rethinking that too. Then again the eccentric is one of those often used types, as is the eccentric who seems to act in foolish ways but is actually wiser than anyone around him.

With mysteries it's always hard to know how much of the plot you can freely discuss and how much is too much and would ruin it for the next reader...
Perhaps a list?

- even when the mystery is solved, you aren't going to get the ending you may expect
- the class system is always present, and various classes always judge one another based on that ranking
- questioning those who govern and the idea of what justice is People in authority often lie, etc. and then others cover up for them, making a long chain of people who must lie rather than have the truth exposed - often for the noble reason of protecting the country, but still, all built on lies.



Contents (Stories):

I. The Face In The Target
II. The Vanishing Prince
III. The Soul Of The Schoolboy
IV. The Bottomless Well
V. The Fad Of The Fisherman
VI. The Hole In The Wall
VII. The Temple Of Silence
VIII. The Vengeance Of The Statue



Quotes:

From start of the first story, The Face in the Target, our first view of Horne Fisher is right in there with the symbolism (and the story reminds us of this later, in case we've missed it):The man was apparently fishing; or at least was fixed in a fisherman's attitude with more than a fisherman's immobility. March was able to examine the man almost as if he had been a statue for some minutes before the statue spoke. He was a tall, fair man, cadaverous, and a little lackadaisical, with heavy eyelids and a highbridged nose. When his face was shaded with his wide white hat, his light mustache and lithe figure gave him a look of youth. But the Panama lay on the moss beside him; and the spectator could see that his brow was prematurely bald; and this, combined with a certain hollowness about the eyes, had an air of headwork and even headache. But the most curious thing about him, realized after a short scrutiny, was that, though he looked like a fisherman, he was not fishing.

He was holding, instead of a rod, something that might have been a landing-net which some fishermen use, but which was much more like the ordinary toy net which children carry, and which they generally use indifferently for shrimps or butterflies. He was dipping this into the water at intervals, gravely regarding its harvest of weed or mud, and emptying it out again.

"No, I haven't caught anything," he remarked, calmly, as if answering an unspoken query. "When I do I have to throw it back again; especially the big fish. But some of the little beasts interest me when I get 'em."

"A scientific interest, I suppose?" observed March.

"Of a rather amateurish sort, I fear," answered the strange fisherman. "I have a sort of hobby about what they call 'phenomena of phosphorescence.' But it would be rather awkward to go about in society carrying stinking fish."

From the Soul of the Schoolboy, example of a reference to class and how such groups assess each other:...The colonel had passed the point of explosion, and he dimly realized that eccentric aristocrats are allowed their fling. He comforted himself with the knowledge that he had already sent for the police, who would break up any such masquerade, and with lighting a cigar, the red end of which, in the gathering darkness, glowed with protest.

From The Bottomless Well:"You are wrong," replied Fisher, with a very unusual abruptness, and even bitterness. "It's what I do know that isn't worth knowing. All the seamy side of things, all the secret reasons and rotten motives and bribery and blackmail they call politics. I needn't be so proud of having been down all these sewers that I should brag about it to the little boys in the street."

"What do you mean? What's the matter with you?" asked his friend.
"I never knew you taken like this before."

"I'm ashamed of myself," replied Fisher. "I've just been throwing cold water on the enthusiasms of a boy."

"Even that explanation is hardly exhaustive," observed the criminal expert.

"Damned newspaper nonsense the enthusiasms were, of course," continued Fisher, "but I ought to know that at that age illusions can be ideals. And they're better than the reality, anyhow. But there is one very ugly responsibility about jolting a young man out of the rut of the most rotten ideal."

"And what may that be?" inquired his friend.

"It's very apt to set him off with the same energy in a much worse direction," answered Fisher; "a pretty endless sort of direction, a bottomless pit as deep as the bottomless well."

From The Bottomless Well, Fisher and his view of the Empire, with a few stereotypes of ethnicity/religion thrown into the mix:"Do you think England is so little as all that?" said Fisher, with a warmth in his cold voice, "that it can't hold a man across a few thousand miles. You lectured me with a lot of ideal patriotism, my young friend; but it's practical patriotism now for you and me, and with no lies to help it. You talked as if everything always went right with us all over the world, in a triumphant crescendo culminating in Hastings. I tell you everything has gone wrong with us here, except Hastings. He was the one name we had left to conjure with, and that mustn't go as well, no, by God! It's bad enough that a gang of infernal Jews should plant us here, where there's no earthly English interest to serve, and all hell beating up against us, simply because Nosey Zimmern has lent money to half the Cabinet. It's bad enough that an old pawnbroker from Bagdad should make us fight his battles; we can't fight with our right hand cut off. Our one score was Hastings and his victory, which was really somebody else's victory. Tom Travers has to suffer, and so have you."

Then, after a moment's silence, he pointed toward the bottomless well and said, in a quieter tone:

"I told you that I didn't believe in the philosophy of the Tower of Aladdin. I don't believe in the Empire growing until it reaches the sky; I don't believe in the Union Jack going up and up eternally like the Tower. But if you think I am going to let the Union Jack go down and down eternally, like the bottomless well, down into the blackness of the bottomless pit, down in defeat and derision, amid the jeers of the very Jews who have sucked us dry—no I won't, and that's flat; not if the Chancellor were blackmailed by twenty millionaires with their gutter rags, not if the Prime Minister married twenty Yankee Jewesses, not if Woodville and Carstairs had shares in twenty swindling mines. If the thing is really tottering, God help it, it mustn't be we who tip it over." ( )
  bookishbat | Sep 25, 2013 |
Apart from knowing that The Man Who Knew Too Much was a detective story and that it was written by G.K. Chesterton, I didn't know much about this book going in. I've read some of the Father Brown stories by Chesterton and really enjoyed them so I was looking forward to sinking my teeth into a Chesterton novel. Sadly, this isn't a novel in the proper sense. Rather, this book is a collection of short detective stories centered around Horne Fisher, the "man who knew too much." Even though it wasn't a complete detective novel, I was still excited to have fun reading the stories.

As mentioned, the main protagonist in the stories is a man named Horne Fisher. At the beginning, we know very little about Fisher but as the stories progress, we learn more and more about him and find out he is related to or family friends with a number of very influential people in politics and business. It is presumably through these connections that he obtains a fair amount of his extra knowledge. The rest of his "knowing too much" comes from being hyper-observant in the same sense as another famous detective, the illustrious Sherlock Holmes.

I'm sure plenty of people have made the comparison and I'll just repeat it here. Horne Fisher and his stories bear a striking resemblance to the style and format of Sherlock Holmes and his stories. Through each of the stories in the book, Fisher is accompanied by a journalist friend named Harold March. This character acts like Watson in some sense by being asking questions and helping unravel the clues of the mystery. Unlike Watson's narration, the stories in this book are written in 3rd person rather than by March himself. Also, March seems a little more competent a companion to Fisher than Watson is to Holmes. No offense to Watson, but in many of the Sherlock stories, it seems like Watson's primary purpose is to tag along, pay the bills and ask "how could you possibly know that" in order to shine the light on Holmes's brilliance. While March does question Fisher's abilities at times he also has a journalistic flair that allows him to ask more pointed and driving questions that help elaborate some of the political and social problems that Fisher faces.

Each individual story is fun and interesting. Some (especially some of the latter in the book) got a little bogged down in political specificity for my taste but they were still fun. As with many detective stories, and more so with a detective like Horne Fisher (or Sherlock Holmes), there are times where the reader feels a little cheated by the conclusion comes by the revelation of some bit of evidence that the reader was never given. Granted, it's difficult to give the reader all of the facts with sufficient detail to allow the reader to solve the mystery while still making sure the details stay obtuse enough to ensure the mystery is tricky to solve and allows the protagonist to show some panache. Detective stories have to straddle the line between giving too many clues and bombarding the reader with red herrings or giving too few clues and making the reader feel a little cheated at the end. It's a tough balancing act.

These stories were definitely fun and entertaining. They weren't quite as humorous as Chesterton's Father Brown stories but they weren't overly heavy or dull either. They definitely had that Holmesian feeling while still being different enough to stand on their own. Each story is fairly short and stands entirely on its own which makes for a nice concise bit of reading while still having some meat on its bones. It is written with some of that same formal feeling and style as Sherlock Holmes so if you're looking for a fast-paced mystery novel, this may not quite be what you're looking for. Still, it's a refreshing batch of smart, well crafted mysteries that make for a nice entertaining read.

****
4 out of 5 stars ( )
  theokester | Aug 8, 2013 |
The Man Who Knew Too Much is a collection of short stories revolving around... well, the man who knew too much, Horne Fisher. The stories are short murder mysteries in which Mr. Fisher figures out what has happened. The murders are all of a political nature, and much of the time Horne comes to the solution by knowing more than he would like to know about many things, including the many shady aspects of British politics and politicians. Much of the time the true nature of the crime has to be concealed from the public, for the good of themselves and the country they live in. The short stories themselves aren't exceptional, but serve as platforms used by G. K. Chesterton to express thoughts, opinions, and general musings about society, politicians, "the greater good", and so on. While I found some of the stories to be very entertaining in their own right, others started feeling a bit like fairy-tales constructed for the sake of the moral they convey. Nevertheless, while I would have liked to be more gripped by the stories, the many interesting one liners, thoughts, and quotable phrases are, by themselves, reason enough to pick up this book. ( )
  clq | Jul 13, 2013 |
I read only the first half. There is always something in Cheaterton, but this is not his strongest
  ben_a | Jan 4, 2012 |
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Harold March, the rising reviewer and social critic, was walking vigorously across a great tableland of moors and commons, the horizon of which was fringed with the far-off woods of the famous estate of Torwood Park.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486431789, Paperback)

From the creator of Father Brown comes a collection reviewed by The Armchair Detective as "dazzlingly executed and richly atmospheric." Eight stories recount the adventures of Horne Fisher, a socialite who uses his powerful deductive gifts to investigate crimes committed on the sprawling country estates of the aristocracy. Evocative portraits of pre–World War I Britain.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:14 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

First published in 1922. Eight stories recount the adventures of Horne Fisher, a socialite who uses his powerful deductive gifts to investigate crimes committed on the sprawling country estates of the aristocracy. Called "dazzlingly executed and richly atmospheric" by The Armchair Detective, this collection is filled with evocative portraits of pre-World War I society.… (more)

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