Sam Kabo Ashwell's Reviews > The Club Of Queer Trades

The Club Of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton
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Nov 29, 10


** spoiler alert ** Episodic. To qualify for the titular club, you must have invented your profession -- the emphasis is on weird niches rather than world-shaking innovation. The everymannish narrator plays Watson to Basil Hart, a retired judge, in various mysteries which always lead to the discovery of a new member for the club.

Basil Grant is an ex-judge, involunarily retired because he is too commonsensical. He is obviously a sort of commentary on Sherlock Holmes: where Holmes is always right because of his command of rational empiricism, Basil is always right because he is a fine judge of character and solidly pragmatic, although he is Holmesian in that he always rejects the most obvious explanation. He has a Holmes-like foil in his younger brother Rupert, who is frequently dashing off to solve crimes which turn out not to be crimes and apprehend criminals who Basil has known all along are good but eccentric.

About half of the Queer Trades boil down to being hired out to sneak actors and theatrics into mundane life, either to deceive the client's social circle (one company detains unwanted guests; a man poses as a buffoon, allowing his client to deliver cutting wit from a script) or to entertain (the Adventure and Romance Company draws its clients into picturesque mysteries); the general pattern is that what appears like melodrama and adventure turns out to be prosaic.

Basil, it eventually transpires, is the President of the Club of Queer Trades; his trade is as a judge in an honour-system, situation-ethics system for offences that are unethical or nasty but not actually criminal: "for selfishness, or for an impossible vanity, or for scandalmongering, or for stinginess to guests or dependents." Combined with his guiding principle of detection -- that there are Good People and Wicked People, and the difference can be discerned at a glance by an experienced eye -- this doesn't come across as wonderful an idea as Chesterton appears to think it is. The fact that it's a light work and doesn't wrangle overmuch with the idea doesn't help.

Chesterton has a pleasant enough prose style, but the stories don't really satisfy as stories; some scenes are extended to the point of padding, various strings are left untied, and the prosaic explanations for each mystery -- usually relying heavily on coincidence -- are often not any more credible than the Conan Doyle-ish outcome that you're led to expect.

The most interesting thing about this is its awareness the basic premises of its genre are not apolitical.
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