I’ve not read much Chesterton – only his wonderful spy novel, “The Man Who Was Thursday” – so this was quite a treat for me. It’s a delightful little story but I’m not sure it plays entirely fair with the reader.
Horne Fisher, The Man Who Knew Too Much, is the detective here and I think it’s quite fair to say that he knows quite a lot more than the reader. He is summoned to attend the Prime Minister (an old friend of his) at a country house fishing trip on the eve of a crucial speech in Birmingham. The PM is due to leave that night for the lengthy drive and needs to speak to Fisher before he does. Also in attendance on the fishing trip are the Duke of Westmoreland, a fashionable dandy who has aged rather well; the Attorney General, who has worked his way up the legal ladder from scratch; and the PM’s aide, whose father it transpires is the host.
Mein Host is not, however, without his own eccentricity – the main one being that he fishes, all day every day, from sunrise to sunset. He dislikes being interrupted for anything other than the utmost matters of urgency and apparently has a ferocious temper to unleash against the unsuspecting. So it’s not really much surprise that, the day after Fisher’s arrival, the man is found dead in his fishing seat, garrotted by his own fishing line.
Now, here is my gripe. Fisher clearly knows more than the reader because he is aware that the deceased has been blackmailing pretty much everybody at that holiday retreat – probably including himself – and consequently they all have a motive to have killed him. Quite a few also have means and opportunity. I’m not actually going to give the end away because the twist is really quite delicious, but I’ve now read through the story twice and I cannot find a hint of this anywhere until Fisher mentions it. I can only assume that Fisher was himself being blackmailed and simply assumed everyone else was as well.
This gripe aside, it’s a wonderful little story and I really liked it. My copy was from the British Library’s Crime Classics collection “Serpents in Eden” – which itself is an absolute gem.