Friday, November 18, 2022

Thoughts on The Flying Stars from The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton

Thoughts on The Flying Stars from The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton

First published in The Saturday Evening Post (May 20, 1911) and then in The Innocence of Father Brown collection (1911). This edition: The Complete Father Brown Mysteries (Carousel Books, 2021). SPOILERS AHEAD?

Flambeau strikes again; for the last and most beautiful time. A Christmas crime. "A crime of Charles Dickens." He notes repenting later that same evening, but we shall get to that in time. What happens first is a rich man shows up with diamonds in tow, a socialist (Mr. Crook) takes to his soapbox (red ties must have meant something quite different then), a pair of young lovers flirt, and an elaborate stage show is produced spur-of-the-moment--replete with a traveling famed French celebrity. Plausible? Well, it's no O. Henry story.

Here is a tale that again begs some comparison to Sherlock Holmes canon. Chesterton employs the tried and true Doyleian tact of setting the stage by telling you just how amazing the tale you're about to behold truly is. It is so 'odd.' So 'perfectly incomprehensible.' In all honesty, Chesterton here makes with the goods perhaps a bit better than does Doyle at times. Although Holmes toils under the severe disadvantage of having his dealings tethered to less surreal environs.

With that heightened sense of surrealism in both effort and execution, also comes a heightened bit of language which flits about easily-so in a sort of poetic prose. "The winter afternoon was reddening towards evening, and already a ruby light was rolled over the bloomless beds, filling them, as it were, with the ghosts of the dead roses." Exquisite, that bit. Superb dialog, too, enables a fleshing out of the characters as well as imparts Chesterton's own philosophical mores. What if I were to tell you that the whole elaborate stage production was an even-more elaborate rouse set forth into buzzing notion by the Colossus of Crime?

Oh, and this actually takes place on Boxing Day, the day when the servants get theirs. "Oh, you will never do anything better. And now, by the way, you might give me back those diamonds." Says Father Brown to Flambeau. I find that a bit confusing... did Fr. ever have them? Regardless, Florian the famed Frenchman parodying a cop was in reality a real policeman tipped off as to Flambeau's thievery. (He gets pummeled upon his entrance into the play (a thrill for the socialist) when his being there was to round up the con.) Fun stuff. Zany, even. Whirly, at the least.

Flambeau, masquerading as a bedazzled harlequin and before that a Canadian "(with a Paris ticket, I suppose)" relation-in-law, on the heels of a death in the middle-class family--gets the diamonds. "They're the three great African diamonds called 'The Flying Stars,' because they've been stolen so often." This casts a bit of doubt or at least meh upon the sheer brilliance of this job by F, if it were, indeed, done so many a time before. But I do understand the aesthetics involved in his grab. Artful. 

Then all culminates in a quite fantastical fairy tale of a scene wherein the glittering and unspeaking 'monkey' of a pick-pocket Flambeau tosses down from his perch in a tree, The Flying Stars for Father Brown to gather and return. That after the little plain priest explains how the myth of the gentleman thief is, in fact, a road leading to damnation. He has threatened to hurt a young Mr. Crook's reputation through this heist--and he will inevitably hurt more and in worse ways. A high-bottom is a good thing to possess. "Your downward steps have begun."

So off goes Flambeau sans loot, still dressed as a sparkly harlequin, and allowed to escape into the night amongst the tree-tops. He then, a flying star himself, one of much more and immeasurable worth than mere diamonds.

Previously: Thoughts on The Queer Feet from The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton
Next: Thoughts on The Invisible Man from The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton

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