Monday, 21 January 2008

Short Story Monday - The Face in the Target by G.K. Chesterton

I have been reading Chesterton for the Outmoded Authors challenge and enjoying his work. Having read most of the Father Brown stories years ago, I decided instead on The Man Who Knew Too Much, a series of short stories about Horne Fisher, who can always see the bigger picture. In the first story in the collection we meet Fisher, through the eyes of Harold March, who subsequently becomes his friend. March is on his way to Torwood Park to meet a politician, when he and Fisher both witness a car come crashing off an overhanging rock – accident? Suicide? There seems to be no apparent reason for it. Fisher quickly deduces that the car crash was no accident, but that the driver – a retired High Court judge - had been shot, and sets a trap which forces the murderer to reveal himself. However, having established that person's identity, Fisher fails to act; the police have already announced that the crash was accidental and Fisher knows that the murder has been based on such a clever and elaborate deception that not only will a true account never be believed, but that the outcome will have disastrous repercussions for too many people.

While Chesterton's stories are dense with information, it is always conveyed with clarity and economy. Fisher's easy flow of erudite conversation quickly establishes his own character, at the same time as he creates deft summaries of the incidental people in the story. Unlike the unassuming Father Brown, Fisher is a man about town and raconteur, with a degree of sharpness and even cynicism about him, which lends the stories a lightness of touch, while a series in which the malefactor routinely escapes justice makes an interesting contrast with the usual run of crime fiction. I'm not sure I was convinced that Fisher's reasons for remaining quiet about the murderer's identity entirely convince me, but I don't think the stories have enough depth to make me seriously consider whether my response to the dilemma should be different. Not a serious challenge to one's moral code, then, but a fun read, nonetheless.

Cross-posted at The Short Story Challenge


  1. Re: "I'm not sure I was convinced that Fisher's reasons for remaining quiet about the murderer's identity entirely convince me"

    It's tough to gage the authenticity of motives, isn't it? We want to give the character the benefit of the doubt, that not everyone acts as we would. But you also need the author to make it seem in line with the character's personality.

  2. Mmm, yes - I think however that Fisher is consistent throughout the stories (read a couple more since writing the post), so I guess what I'm saying is that I'd have argued with him, which is my problem, not the author's!

    BTW, I owe a Canadian book review and will be doing some serious catching up reading after the end of this month.