THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH AND OTHER STORIES. London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Ltd, . Octavo, pp. [1-8] 1-307  [309-310: blank] [note: last leaf is a blank], original green cloth, front and spine panels stamped in black. First edition. The contents of the Cassell edition differ from those in American edition published by Harper in 1922. The Cassell edition has the eight tales featuring Horne Fisher and the four-part "The Trees of Pride," plus three stories not in the Harper edition; "The Garden of Smoke," "The Five of Swords" and "The Tower of Treason." "The Garden of Smoke" is a murder mystery about roses and drugs. As is typical with Chesterton, it's also about the flimsiness of appearances and the paradox that the only really solid things are those that are unseen. A whiff of fantasy hangs over the story with its premise of a special, very rare kind of opium so good that it not only supplies the needed inspiration for "a famous lady novelist and fashionable poet," but the motivation for a murder. As is also typical with Chesterton, the male characters here and in the following story move about (deliberately or helplessly) on a plane of irony, while the heroine moves about on a plane of romance. "The Trees of Pride" is longer, more ambitious and more fantastic, dealing with the legend and superstitions surrounding a stand of peacock trees, a flamboyant Asian/African species that has been imported to a seaside town in Cornwall. The locals believe them responsible for a spate of recent deaths and disappearances in the town and want to cut them down. The owner of the estate, one of those "advanced" and "enlightened" specimens of modernity that Chesterton loves to attack, refuses. The arrival of an American critic and the local poet he has discovered provide the catalyst for what follows: the disappearance and presumed death of the estate owner after he announces angrily that he is going to spend the night in the grove of demon trees to dispel the local superstitions. The mystery is resolved with a kind of triple reverse as the supernatural gives way to the criminal, which gives way to the humorous, which gives way, once again, to the supernatural. The story has something of the feeling of Chesterton's fantasy masterpiece, THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY, as the reader falls through one trap door after another. The most explicit serious theme here is that elites should not be quick to dismiss a thing just because it is held true by the masses. The background legend from North Africa about the carnivorous peacock trees constitutes a very attractive and potently weird storyette; this and the ambiguity surrounding them in modern Cornwall allow for this story to be classified as fantastic. "The Five of Spades" is a murder mystery set in France amid the intersecting worlds of dueling and business. It blends cleverness (in its detection), idealism (in its romance), urbanity (in its cultural insights) and an abiding sense of mystery (in both the macrocosm of its plot and the microcosm of its aphorisms) as one seeming truth gives way, like a discarded mask, to another, and another, and so on: all of it adding up that characteristic Chestertonian bravura whose exuberant levity is exactly balanced by its moral gravity. The same could be said of "The Tower of Treason" (or, indeed, to one degree or another, of everything else that the author wrote), which moves the setting from the bright plains of France to the dark mountains of an unspecified Balkan country, from the busy doings of the secular to the intricate broodings of the monastic. The story involves diamonds and history, treason and sacrifice, each one indestructible, disappearing only to come back in faint echoes or brilliant flashes. This, the final story of the collection, closes it out on a more overtly religious note - or chord - reminding us that, at the very heart of Christianity and shot through it, is that Chestertonian trademark, paradox, the paradox of sacrifice, divine and human, which wears a mask of loss only to stand revealed in the final act as ultimate gain. The last paragraph, with its metaphorical equation of a diamond, a bullet, the truth, the soul and a star, is as dazzling and conclusive as a Euclidean proof. Beyond this pervasive sense of religious mysteriy, neither of the stories have any fantastic or supernatural content. Bleiler (1948), p. 77. Not in Bleiler (1978) or Reginald (1979; 1992). Barzun and Taylor, A Catalogue of Crime 2407. Queen, The Detective Short Story, p. 21. Hubin (1994), p. 159. A nearly fine copy. A sharp copy of a book which does not age gracefully, (#110049).
"First published in 1922" on copyright page. Printer's code "F40.1022" on page .