Unconnected to Alfred Hitchcock’s excellent pair of movies of the same name, GK Chesterton’s The Man Who Knew Too Much is a collection of eight short stories about his melancholy detective, Horne Fisher.
The stories each have a clever twist at their heart to explain how and why a crime was committed, with the twists of a standard up there with the best of other detective fiction of the time.
But very little other action happens in the stories. They are all very straight forward in their linear progression from an event happening through to Horne Fisher taking a gentle amble around and then explaining what happened. Red herrings, extra twists, character development and wild goose chases are all pretty much absent in the swift and direct resolution of each mystery. However, there are regular bitter-sweet moments, with it transpiring that simply arresting and convicting the guilty party is neither ideal nor practical.
I can’t quite work out how I would view Horne Fisher if he were real and I met him. Is he a minimalist, enigmatic, intriguing character or rather a bore who can’t bear to explain things directly and always needs to apply a bucket load of condescension? Either way, his ability to turn up in so many different places without a clear reason for being there would certainly keep me on my toes.
The books also displays Chesterton’s anti-semitic and racist views. In his day those views were commonly held (though in fairness to many of the time, they were far from universally held). But now they stand out for their extremism and nastiness. The plots, though, do not hinge on them so one can still extract the enjoyable from the horribly dated when reading.
Buy The Man Who Knew Too Much by GK Chesterton here, or if you’re looking for another mystery thriller of the era, take a look at The Riddle of the Sands.